South Sudan's Army Suffocated 60 People To Death In A Storage Container

They're among 10,553 civilians killed between November of 2014 and 2015, a UN report shows.

12/03/2016 5:31 AM AEDT | Updated 12/03/2016 5:31 AM AEDT
South Sudan government soldiers in the town of Koch, Unity state, South Sudan. The government says its forces are under strict command to observe human rights and protect civilians.

South Sudan's militias targeted women, children and the disabled in horrific, mass-casualty attacks that included gang rape, mass suffocation and burning victims alive, according to a new United Nations report.

The UN Human Rights Office study filed on Friday found that all sides of the civil war in South Sudan were carrying out systematic violence against civilians. Children have been burned alive, allied government forces rape women as a form of payment and an estimated 10,553 civilians were killed between November of 2014 and 2015, the assessment team's research compiled late last year shows.

"The report contains harrowing accounts of civilians suspected of supporting the opposition, including children and the disabled, killed by being burned alive, suffocated in containers, shot, hanged from trees or cut to pieces," the UN Human Rights Office in the U.S.said in a statement on Friday.

“If you looked young or good looking, about 10 men would rape the woman; the older women were raped by about seven to nine men.”

In one particularly egregious case in October, the acting government's Sudan People's Liberation Army allegedly suffocated nearly 60 men and children over the course of several days:

Approximately 60 cattle-keepers suffocated while detained in a container in the compound of the former Catholic Church in Leer town, which, at the time, was apparently used by the acting Leer County Commissioner and the SPLA.

The cattle keepers, who were mostly from the surrounding villages of Leer, were requested by SPLA and local authority officials to take their cattle to Leer for protection. Witnesses reported seeing the men being rounded up and brought to the container.  

According to credible information, all men, with the exception of one survivor, died within one or two days of being detained. Their bodies were later dumped in a nearby area. In November, the assessment team visited the alleged dumping ground and confirmed the presence of human remains.

Over the course of just five months last year, the UN recorded more than 1,300 reports of rape in Unity, one of South Sudan’s 10 states. Women were traded as payment for pro-government soldiers.

“If you looked young or good looking, about 10 men would rape the woman; the older women were raped by about seven to nine men,” a witness told the UN.

South Sudan's civil war has raged since December 2013, leaving tens of thousands dead and more than 2.3 million displaced. Experts say the conflict has fallen off the international radar, and Al Jazeera calls the UN's newest report one of the most "shocking and damning" it's ever seen.

The South Sudanese government has yet to take responsibility for any of the criminal acts alleged in the report. Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny denied the claims.

"As a responsible government we take every report seriously, when the report is about human rights violations. However, our forces are under strict command to observe human rights and to protect civilians," he told Al Jazeera.

"If there are individuals, soldiers, that comes to violate human rights, then they are doing it at their own peril because the government does not authorize anybody to kill civilians."

Voices against those atrocities are being silenced. At least seven journalists and as many high-profile activists were killed in 2015.

“Civil society activists, human rights defenders, humanitarian actors, journalists and print media and even UN staff members have been the subject of threats, intimidation, harassment, detention and in some instances death by the Government," the UN Human Rights Office in the U.S. said.

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