Government soldiers and security forces in South Sudan executed civilians and gang-raped women and girls during and after ethnically-charged fighting last month in the capital Juba, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the government of President Salva Kiir to prosecute perpetrators and urged world powers in the UN Security Council to take "urgent action" to halt the violence. "While some civilians were killed in crossfire between the fighting forces, others were reportedly summarily executed by Government (SPLA) soldiers, who appear to have specifically targeted people of Nuer origin," Zeid said in a statement.
Human rights spokesman Rupert Colville reiterated the statement in an interview with Reuters on Thursday. "The majority of these violations, the great majority of these violations appeared to have been committed by government forces, by the SPLA. They include killings, summary executions of civilians, as well as fighters; they include a lot of looting and destruction of property, and perhaps most disturbing a very high number of attacks on women, apparently, on an ethnic basis for the most part... 217 cases that we are aware of so far and obviously there could well be many more," he said.
He described his office's investigation, citing two separate incidents on 11 July in which SPLA soldiers reportedly arrested eight Nuer civilians during house-to-house searches in Juba's Munuki area and took them to two nearby hotels," and four of them were shot".
On the same day, SPLA soldiers broke into another hotel where they shot and killed a Nuer journalist. At least 73 civilian deaths have been documented so far by the UN, but it is believed the civilian death toll may turn out to be "much higher", Zeid said, adding that at least 217 cases of sexual violence in Juba had been documented during the period of July 8-25.
"On this one road heading to the south-west, the heart of Juba towards a town called Yei, and that road seems to be particularly, particularly bad. We know of around at least a hundred cases of women who were raped or gang-raped on that road in various different locations, sometimes (by) large groups, and it was mainly at checkpoints, it was government checkpoints presumably set up to catch opposition fighters fleeing the city but they were using their position to prey on women," Colville said.
Kiir fired six ministers allied to his long-time rival Riek Machar late on Tuesday, widening a political rift in the world's newest state and drawing threats of more fighting.