South Sudan: Govt Accused of 'Scorched Earth' Policy

South Sudan soldiers

The U.N. human rights office accuses the South Sudanese government and its allies of brutally and deliberately attacking civilians, particularly women and children, in what it says appears to be a "scorched earth" policy against opposition forces in parts of Unity state.

U.N. human rights monitors say at least 232 civilians were killed and many more injured during the attacks, which took place in opposition-controlled areas between April 16 and May 24.

Ravina Shamdasani, U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman, says the deliberate and ruthless assaults may amount to war crimes.

"Civilians were targeted, with the elderly, people with disabilities and very young children killed in horrific acts of violence — some hung from trees and others burned alive in their own homes. ... The report also documents the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, with at least 120 women and girls raped or gang-raped, including children as young as four," Shamdasani said.

Survivors describe a brutal, ruthless campaign by attackers aimed at punishing and terrorizing them so they never return to their lands and homes, which suggests the government was pursuing a "scorched earth" approach to rid itself of its perceived enemies, Shamdasani says.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein is calling on the government to stop all attacks against civilians. He urges the government to launch investigations and to hold perpetrators of what he calls revolting acts against defenseless civilians accountable for their crimes.

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