October 25th, 2018

Human Rights Watch: Thousands Forced into UN Protection Sites in Wau

The Human Rights Watch has released a report detailing violent attacks and counterinsurgencies in the Western Region of South Sudan. Despite a ‘Cessation of Hostilities’ agreement in June, tens of thousands of civilians have been forced into United Nations protection sites in Wau to escape ethnic violence, ongoing human rights violations and conflict over rebel-held areas.

Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch, revealed abuses against civilians are being committed by government forces as clashes continue between warring factions in the Western Region. Henry commented: “This is the latest chapter in a long history of violence and impunity that has uprooted and traumatised hundreds of thousands of people in this part of the country”.

Communities affected in Wau, including those seeking refuge in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) protection of civilian sites, have given interviews describing how hostilities and abuses have persisted in spite of the recent peace agreement. Women and girls are among the most vulnerable, reporting counts of sexual violence, assault and rape. A 23-year-old woman recalled her traumatic experience: “The soldiers took us to the bush and hung me up from a tree at Kor Malong. They tied my hands behind my back. They asked my tribe. I said my father was Dinka to get released.”

The report also uncovered four cases of arbitrary detention. ‘Patterns’ of torture and the unlawful imprisonment of Fertit and Luo ethnic men continues uninterrupted as those suspected of being allied to rebel forces are detained in two military facilities “without charge or access to legal assistance”. These breaches of rights under humanitarian law remained unreported until the release of the Human Rights Watch investigation yesterday.

Witnesses to attacks in Wau have reported looting of civilian property, schools and health centres by government forces. A death toll has not yet been provided by authorities, and fatalities are difficult to determine as inter-ethnic violence and conflict between political factions persist. A 42-year old woman whose mother was killed in a government-led offensive in July said: “I went back five days later, and saw bodies with my eyes. I saw a lot of burned and looted property. Even the church was looted of doors and windows”.

Currently, humanitarian aid is being mishandled by both rebel and government factions in the Western Region. Towards the end of August, South Sudanese authorities had permitted the UN and other aid organisations access to the area, but violent clashes stalled relief operations in late September and early October. Worsening humanitarian situations are being compounded by interrupted aid efforts, further endangering the lives of those who have been displaced by conflict and ongoing attacks in the Western Region of South Sudan.


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