Amnesty International has called on the South Sudanese authorities to investigate “shocking human rights violations” on civilians by members of the country’s security forces.
“Amnesty is calling for the UN to … provide the necessary resources to ensure that they are able to fulfill their mandate of protecting civilians“
– Khairunissa Dhala,
“South Sudan should take immediate action to end human rights violations including torture, shootings and sexual violence by security forces carrying out a civilian disarmament campaign in Jonglei State,” the UK-based rights group said in a statement on Tuesday.
The disarmament programme by South Sudan’s security forces began in the volatile eastern state following a wave of ethnic violence that erupted in late December.
The attacks left nearly 900 people dead, according to UN figures, after an estimated 8,000-strong rebel force from the Lou Nuer people rampaged through Jonglei’s Pibor county, massacring members of the rival Murle group, abducting
women and children, razing villages and stealing cattle.
The response of the army – made up of former rebel fighters who went on to form the South’s official army when the country became independent in 2011 – has been heavily criticised for its brutal treatment of civilians.
‘Shocking human rights violations’
South Sudan’s army and police force “have committed shocking human rights violations and the authorities are doing very little to stop the abuse”, said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s Africa director.
Khairunissa Dhala, the author of the Amnesty report, told Al Jazeera that members of South Sudan’s military and government must be held accountable for the brutal acts.
“In the areas where we went to, there were scores of civilians that had been affected by the civilian disarmament campaign. There were individuals within the army that inflicted these abuses.
“The UN has a peacekeeping presence in Pibor, however, the peacekeepers are limited to the areas that they can patrol due to logistical constraints. Amnesty is calling for the UN to increase its peacekeeping presence and to also provide the necessary resources to ensure that they are able to fulfill their mandate of protecting civilians,” she said.
In August, Human Rights Watch reported “soldiers shooting at civilians, and ill-treating them by beatings, tying them up with rope, and submerging their heads in water to extract information about the location of weapons” in the disarmament scheme.
The UN also said in August it was concerned about an increase in “serious human rights violations allegedly committed by some undisciplined elements within the South Sudanese Army” and voiced fears that the actions threatened to derail peace efforts there.
Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan’s minister of information, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the latest Amnesty report on the abuses are “absolutely exagggerated”.
“These reports are isolated cases and the government has taken steps in order to identify these cases and persecute the perpetrators,” he said.
“These allegations have been identified and brought to the courts. The perpetrators have been put in jails, there is no doubt about that.”