Military and political officials in South Sudan supported well-armed militias in the Greater Jonglei region and must be held accountable for fueling community-based violence that killed more than 700 people between January and June of last year, according to the Office of the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights.
In a joint report released Monday, the OHCHR and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) called on the South Sudan government to hold to account not just those who committed the killings and abductions, but also local chiefs and military and political leaders who fueled intercommunal violence and supplied weapons to local militias.
"The risk that these community-based militias will reignite armed violence is too grave to ignore. It is of paramount importance that the government takes effective steps to ensure that members of the security forces are prevented from supplying weapons from government stocks to these militias," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in the report.
The 36-page report details armed violence and human rights violations committed by militias from the Dinka, the Nuer, and the Merle communities in Jonglei state and the Pibor Administrative Area. Six-hundred-eighty-six women and children were abducted and at least 39 women were raped, according to the report.
Marta Hurtado, spokesperson for the U.N.'s human rights office, said the violence was organized and fueled by a number of actors who created an environment that allowed the violations to occur.
"We are talking an array of people from traditional chiefs to spiritual leaders, from military and political elites, from the government and from the opposition; a really big array of people helping the violence, even the diaspora through financing and through promoting hate speech," Hurtado told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.
Repeated attempts to contact government spokesperson Michael Makuei for comment on the U.N. report were unsuccessful.
Although grass-roots reconciliation efforts and peace talks have been held between some of the affected communities, the report states the government has not undertaken "any meaningful action" to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses in Greater Jonglei and the Pibor Administrative Area.
The government must speed up the process of creating a unified army as provided for in the 2018 peace agreement in order to prevent more violence from occurring, according to Hurtado.
"While these processes have to continue of creating a one and only state-controlled army, what should be done from now on is to control the weapons, to avoid that state-owned weapons arrive to these militias, and of course as a second step to avoid other weapons arriving to these militias to prevent further violence that could endanger the fragile peace agreement in the country," Hurtado told VOA.
The violence also displaced tens of thousands of people. Civilian property and humanitarian facilities were looted or destroyed, and at least 86,000 cattle worth over $35 million were stolen, according to the U.N. report.
UNMISS and OHCHR called on the government to finalize the appointment of local administrators and local assemblies throughout Jonglei state and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area to investigate all charges of human rights violations and abuses and to prosecute those responsible.
The report says "immediate and strong" steps should also be taken to facilitate the release and reunification of abducted women and children with their families.