The United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) today voiced grave concern over mounting evidence of gross human rights abuses in the strife-torn country, including extra-judicial killings of civilians and captured soldiers, massive displacements and arbitrary detentions, often on ethnic grounds.
"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the atrocities committed against innocent civilians of different communities by elements from both sides during the crisis," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative and head of UNMISS, Hilde Johnson, said. "There is no excuse for these terrible acts of violence. All perpetrators must be held accountable."
UNMISS cited the discovery of large numbers of bodies in Juba, the capital, and the Upper Nile and Jonglei state capitals of Malakal and Bor.
The conflict erupted in the world's youngest country, which only gained independence in 2011 after seceding from Sudan, 16 days ago when President Salva Kiir said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup.
Mr. Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Mr. Machar to the Lou Nuer, and UNMISS said it sees evidence of the apparent targeting of South Sudanese citizens on ethnic grounds. "This can lead to a perpetual cycle of violence that can destroy the fabric of the new nation," it warned in a statement.
The Mission has several times previously called for an end to the serious human rights violations. "Available evidence indicates that atrocities are continuing to occur in various parts of South Sudan," it said today.
"Many of these violations appear to be ethnically targeted. Most of the more brutal atrocities are reported to have been carried out by people wearing uniform."
UNMISS has been collecting information every day since the crisis began and pledged to continue "this priority task of investigating all reports of serious human rights violations and collecting evidence and eyewitness testimony in order to document such allegations."
It reminded all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and act in accordance with human rights and humanitarian law, and called on key leaders to send strong public messages to their respective constituencies insisting that the violence must stop, and that anyone disobeying these orders will be punished severely.
Ms. Johnson welcomed yesterday's decision of the African Union's Peace and Security Council to establish a commission to investigate human rights violations and other abuses and recommend ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all communities.
"The UN stands together with all the people of South Sudan and demands that all parties halt the violence with immediate effect," UNMISS stated, calling on all sides to open talks for a peaceful resolution of their differences. "The leaders of all sides have a historic responsibility to the future and people of this young country."
The Security Council held a crisis meeting on South Sudan yesterday, after which it issued a press statement demanding an immediate cessation of hostilities and the full protection of civilians.
It stressed its determination to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations be held accountable.