The United States has accused both sides in South Sudan's violent political conflict, which has seen thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since mid-December, of engaging in human rights abuses.
The accusations came in the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which was released this week in Washington.
A power struggle within South Sudan's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), turned into an armed conflict starting in the capital city, Juba, on December 15 after President Salva Kiir accused the former vice president, Riek Machar, of an attempted coup. Machar denies the accusation.
Speaking at the State Department Thursday, Uzra Zeya, Acting Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, said, "In the world's newest country, South Sudan, security forces on all sides committed brutal acts against civilians from killing to torture to rape amid a climate of impunity."
The report accused "government security forces, rebel militia groups (RMGs), and rival ethnic communities" of killing and abusing civilians, forcing many to flee their homes.
According to the report, the conflict immediately turned traditional rival ethnic groups against each other resulting in targeted killings in Juba and elsewhere. The violence mainly involved Dinkas, the country's largest ethnic group, and the second largest community, the Nuer.
The State Department also warned that, "Since the outbreak of conflict on December 15, there were reports of forced conscription by government forces and recruitment and use of child soldiers by both government and antigovernment forces." South Sudan's armed forces, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), used child soldiers during its two-decade conflict with Sudan, which ended in 2005 and resulted in independence in 2011.
Human Rights groups have warned about deteriorating conditions and abuses in South Sudan, as fighting continues despite a ceasefire that was signed in January in Ethiopia.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported earlier this week that hospitals in the towns of Leer and Malakal had been destroyed and that some patients at the Malakal Training Hospital showed "signs they had been shot dead while lying in their beds," according to Raphael Gorgeu, the MSF head of mission in South Sudan.
In a press release this week, the Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, Daniel Bekele, said, "Both sides need to stop their forces from committing abuses and hold those who have responsible for their actions, and the African Union should accelerate its long promised investigations."
The A.U. announced in January that it was setting up a panel to investigate human rights violations since the fighting began.
The government and opposition forces have accused each other of abuses.
According to United Nation's estimates, some 900,000 have been displaced in South Sudan since the conflict broke out, with nearly 200,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
Internationally mediated negotiations to reach a political solution to South Sudan's conflict continue in Ethiopia.