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Gang rapes and beheadings revealed in UN report on South Sudan abuses

A new report for the UN has detailed atrocities allegedly committed by both sides in the five-year conflict.

The latest report on human rights abuses carried out during South Sudan’s civil war contains harrowing accounts of beheadings, mutilations, gang rapes and other atrocities.

In the document, released by a United Nations commission, one South Sudanese man is said to have returned home after hiding from government soldiers to find they had blinded his mother, gouging out her eyes with spears.

The woman had tried to defend her 17-year-old daughter from being raped by more than a dozen soldiers. Seventeen soldiers then sexually assaulted the teenager, while the family’s father was beheaded.

The UN team has collected evidence of human rights abuses over the five-year conflict, including those which took place in Pagak town, in the hopes of one day achieving justice.

Andrew Clapham, a commission member and international law professor, said: “I did not expect to be confronted with so much ritual humiliation and degradation deliberately done for multiple reasons. The suffering and cruelty was worse than anyone could have imagined.”

One South Sudanese woman told the commission that her 12-year-old son was forced to have sex with his grandmother in order to stay alive, the report said.

The findings, with “sufficient evidence” against both President Salva Kiir’s government forces and rebels, identify more than 40 senior military officials, including three state governors, “who may bear individual responsibility for war crimes”.

The report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month. It will also be made available to judicial mechanisms such as a hybrid court for South Sudan, which long has been urged by the international community but has never appeared.

Untold tens of thousands have been killed in South Sudan since the conflict erupted in December 2013, just two years after independence from Sudan. More than two million people have fled the country, the largest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide 24 years ago. Millions who remain at home face hunger.

The new UN report is an account of the gang rapes, castrations, ethnic violence and other abuses that have left much of the impoverished East African nation in despair, as international frustration with the warring sides grows.

An attempt at a ceasefire in late December was violated within hours. The United States then announced a largely symbolic arms embargo and urged the UN Security Council to do the same.

South Sudan’s government said it has asked the UN commission for the names of the accused senior military officials and will investigate.

“We can’t condone anyone committing crimes and taking the law in their own hands,” spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said, while adding that such reports “can sometimes be cut-and-paste and based on hearsay”.

Opposition spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said: “The human rights body should start putting the blame directly on the regime instead of blaming both sides.”

The names of the alleged perpetrators are being withheld for now to protect witnesses who came forward, the UN said.

South Sudan’s conflict began as a power struggle between Mr Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar, but has fractured into an estimated 40 armed groups across the country, with many fighting each other.

However, consistent patterns stand out, such as government attacks on unarmed, fleeing civilians in areas where no opposition forces were present, the report said.

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