Nairobi — The South Sudanese government has dismissed as "blanket blame" a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that says acts of violence and cruelty that amount to war crimes have been committed by both sides in South Sudan's conflict.
The head of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and international relations, Philip Thon Leek, said the report unfairly blames government soldiers for some of the violence, including what HRW called one of worst incidents - when hundreds of Nuer men were rounded up in Juba by government forces in December, and many of them killed.
"They say the army, seeing 300 Nuer moving, they were arrested. If you are to escape from death, you don't have to move in a big group unless you are fighting," Leek said.
The report said that the men were rounded up in house-to-house searches.
HRW researcher for Sudan and South Sudan, Skye Wheeler, said widespread abuses by both sides have been documented in South Sudan, including "targeting civilians, often because of their ethnicity."
The report also documents massive destruction of property, including hospitals, markets and churches.
HRW compiled the report by conducting interviews with hundreds of survivors and witnesses to the attacks. Wheeler said it was troubling that neither side was willing to accept responsibility for the atrocities documented in the report and hold the perpetrators to account.
"So far, we haven't seen either side, the government or the opposition, take any credible steps towards accountability for these crimes," she said. "That is all the more reason why we need to see the international community step up to the plate."
Wheeler called on the United Nations to impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo on South Sudan. Both the United States and European Union have already done so.
Opposition spokesman Mabior Garang said his side welcomed any international investigation and would support strict sanctions against anyone found to have committed abuses against civilians.
He said the opposition would not protect anyone on its side found guilty of involvement in atrocities and pledged that "we will fully cooperate with all investigations because we have been calling for this from the beginning."
Philip Aleu reported from Juba.