A new frontline in South Sudan’s conflict has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country’s fertile Equatoria region over the past year, creating ongoing atrocities, starvation and fear, according to a new Amnesty International report seen on Monday.The organization’s researchers visited the region in June, documenting how mainly government but also opposition forces in the southern region have committed crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations and abuses – including war crimes – against civilians.
The atrocities have resulted in the mass displacement of close to a million people, including refugees fleeing into neighbouring Uganda.
“The escalation of fighting in the Equatoria region has led to increased brutality against civilians. Men, women and children have been shot, hacked to death with machetes and burnt alive in their homes. Women and girls have been gang-raped and abducted,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, who just returned from the region.
“Homes, schools, medical facilities and humanitarian organizations’ compounds have been looted, vandalized and burnt to the ground. And food is being used as a weapon of war,” Rovera added in a statement issued in Nairobi.
South Sudan’s Equatoria region had been largely spared the political and inter-communal violence which has ravaged the country since 2013, when fighting broke out between members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to then Vice-President Riek Machar.
All this changed in mid-2016 when, for different reasons, both government and opposition forces descended on Yei, a strategic town of some 300,000 people 150 km south-west of the capital Juba, on a main trade route to Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Government forces, supported by allied militia, including the notoriously unaccountable Mathian Anyoor – comprised of young, mainly ethnic Dinka fighters – have since committed a litany of violations with impunity. Opposition armed groups have also committed grave abuses, albeit on a smaller scale, said the report.