There has been a "massive" increase in human rights abuses in South Sudan over the past nine months, partly because of the failure of the international community to set up a court and bring perpetrators to justice, a U.N. official said Tuesday.
The scale of human rights abuses in South Sudan, particularly sexual violence, is "so horrifying that the consequences of doing nothing are unthinkable," said Yasmin Sooka, chairwoman of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
Sooka told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that civilians had been "deliberately and systematically targeted on the basis of their ethnicity by government and government-aligned forces." She said the government had begun a campaign of "population engineering" to relocate people over their ethnicity, as civil war continues under warnings of genocide.
Unlawful arrests, rape, torture and killing have become the norm, the U.N. expert said, describing whole villages burned to ashes and hospitals and churches attacked.
The failure to prosecute atrocities in South Sudan is "appeasement" and makes the world complicit in the continuing bloodshed there, she said.
'No more excuses'
An escalation in rights violations can be prevented only if there is an immediate push to set up a court and bring prosecutions, Sooka said, adding that the court should be operational by the end of the year.
"There can be no more delay, no more excuses," she said.
South Sudan's Justice Minister Paulino Wanawilla Unango refuted the report, telling the Security Council that he didn't recognize Sooka's portrayal of his country. He said her team had visited only a few towns and had not reflected the government's views in its report.
"It will never be a fair investigation," he said.
South Sudan has been beset by violence for more than three years because of a political rivalry between the young country's two leaders.
The power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, broke out in December 2013, after the president accused Machar and 10 others of attempting a coup d'état. The war has displaced more than 2 million people from their homes and caused food shortages in many areas.