South Sudan conflict: UN says atrocities on both sides

UN Human Rights fact finder Ivan Simonovic on atrocities in South Sudan

Both sides in South Sudan's conflict have carried out atrocities, a UN human rights chief has said.

In a BBC interview, Ivan Simonovic said the towns of Bor and Bentiu - which had changed hands a number of times - were now "ghost towns".

He was speaking after visiting South Sudan to prepare a report for the UN.

Several thousand people are believed to have been killed over the past month in the conflict between the government and the rebels.

'Looted and burned'

Mr Simonovic told the BBC that both government soldiers and rebels had committed atrocities.

"The level of involvement in the atrocities was different in different locations."

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Destruction of Rubkona, Unity State
Satellite images of Rubkona, South Sudan
  • Satellite images obtained by the UN on 2 January and 13 January show the destruction of the northern town of Rubkona, not far from Bentiu, an area that has seen heavy fighting
  • Preliminary UN analysis concludes the majority of the town was destroyed, primarily by fire. Almost 4,000 burned or other damaged buildings were identified in the area
  • The UN says there is also evidence of looting, with piles of debris in multiple locations
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Mr Simonovic said that worst-affected were the southern town of Bor, and Bentiu in the north of the country.

A man carrying his belongings looks at destroyed buildings in Bentiu. Photo: 12 January 2014 Bentiu has been all but wiped out after weeks of fighting

"Bor is empty and Bentiu does not exist anymore; it has been wiped out. It has not been only looted, it has been burned," Mr Simonovic told the BBC.

"You can find citizens only in camps for displaced persons. What is appalling is that you have an ethnicised truth, how conflict began, who is targeting civilians.

He said there had been reports of "mass killings, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, widespread destruction and looting of property and use of the children in conflict".

"I do think it is essential to have an enhanced monitoring and reporting on atrocities that have taken place."

In the capital, Juba, there were allegations of large numbers rounded up and killed because of their ethnicity.

Mr Simonovic said his team's report would be released in a couple of weeks' time.

Meanwhile, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said it had been forced to suspend its aid efforts in the town of Malakal following the looting of its compounds.

The conflict broke out on 15 December, when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup - charges he denies.

The dispute has seen killings along ethnic lines - Mr Kiir is a member of the Dinka community, the country's largest, while Mr Machar is from the Nuer ethnic group.

map Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital, Juba, in mid-December. It followed a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The squabble has taken on an ethnic dimension as politicians' political bases are often ethnic.
News graphic showing the ethnic groups of South Sudan Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.
Map showing the location of oil fields in South Sudan Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounts for 98% of South Sudan's budget. They have fiercely disagreed over how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state - at one time production was shutdown for more than a year. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north
Map showing the geography of South Sudan The two Sudans are very different geographically. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.
Map showing access to water in South Sudan After gaining independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world's newest country - and one of its poorest. Figures from 2010 show some 69% of households now have access to clean water - up from 48% in 2006. However, just 2% of households have water on the premises.
Map showing education levels in South Sudan Just 29% of children attend primary school in South Sudan - however this is also an improvement on the 16% recorded in 2006. About 32% of primary-age boys attend, while just 25% of girls do. However, 64% of children who begin primary school reach the last grade - completion rates are shown on the map above.
Map showing food insecurity rates in South Sudan Almost 28% of children under the age of five in South Sudan are moderately or severely underweight - this compares with the 33% recorded in 2006. Unity state has the highest proportion of children suffering malnourishment (46%), while Central Equatoria has the lowest (17%).

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