South Sudan's latest civil war atrocities kept out of sight; Gang-rapes, children burned alive
KINSHASA, Congo — The accounts are horrific. A young girl strangled and gang-raped. Children burned alive as government soldiers blocked the door of their hut and set it aflame.
These are some of the atrocities revealed in 14 reports, seen by The Associated Press, that have not yet been released by the independent body charged with monitoring a failed cease-fire imposed in December in South Sudan, where civil war is now well into its fifth year.
The reports should have been released last month at a meeting led by the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission but South Sudan's government did not attend, preventing the accounts of abuses from being made public because there was not a quorum.
"The reports contain evidence that soldiers continue to kill, rape and destroy property. The decision to keep these ongoing atrocity crimes secret sends the wrong message," Jehanne Henry, senior Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the AP. Only five such reports have been released this year.
The African Union and the East African regional bloc that mediates South Sudan's peace talks should take action, said Edmund Yakani, executive director for the local advocacy group Community Empowerment for Progress Organization.
"Silence on the violations only encourages further violations," he said.
While people attending the meeting said copies of the reports on atrocities were distributed to diplomats from the United States, the United Nations, Britain and elsewhere, none have released them publicly or made public the reports of abuses.
South Sudan's government didn't respond to multiple requests for comment on why it didn't attend last month's meeting.
The unpublished reports describe violations by both government and opposition forces but most of the accounts blame government troops for instigating attacks and deliberately targeting civilians.
During an attack in February on a school in the town of Modit, children fled into a hut to hide. Government soldiers blocked the door and set it on fire, burning the children to death, said one report.
A young girl fetching water from a river in the town of Yei was strangled before she and her mother were gang-raped by government soldiers, another report said. More than 30 cases of sexual assault were recorded in Yei and surrounding areas in the three months following December's cease-fire agreement.
And in the nearby town of Morobo, a woman was raped and beaten so badly that she lost sight in one eye. A disabled woman, unable to flee the fighting, was thrown into a burning house by government soldiers, the report said.
The group that compiled the reports, the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism, told the AP its mandate doesn't require it to publish reports and that releasing them had been the task of its parent body, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission. The commission reports to the East African regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Neither responded to several AP requests for comment.
The concealing of the atrocities comes as the international community loses patience with South Sudan's civil war, which has killed tens of thousands and created Africa's largest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The U.S., South Sudan's largest aid donor, has increased pressure on the Juba government amid widespread allegations that its officials are profiting from the conflict instead of working to end it.
Last week the U.N. Security Council adopted a U.S.-sponsored resolution that warns of an arms embargo and sanctions against six high-ranking officials if the fighting doesn't stop.
The U.S. and others, however, insist that the East African regional bloc, along with the African Union, should take the lead in finding peace and holding perpetrators of abuses accountable.
The U.S. urges the monitoring bodies to release the reports of atrocities as soon as possible and regrets that the South Sudan government's "refusal to attend the plenary on May 14 prevented those reports from being made public at that time," embassy spokesman Mark Weinberg told the AP.
Chris Trott, U.K. special representative for South Sudan, concluded that "it's important, for the sake of ordinary South Sudanese who are again falling victim to the violence and for the credibility of the peace process, that violators are held to account."
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