October 25th, 2018
Human Rights Watch Report: Thousands Forced into UN Protection Sites in Wau
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report investigating continued attacks in the Western Region of South Sudan. Despite a ‘Cessation of Hostilities’ agreement between rebel and government factions, tens of thousands of civilians are currently seeking refuge in United Nations protection sites, escaping threats of ethnic violence, ongoing human rights violations and conflict over rebel-held areas.
In the report, Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch, revealed that abuses against civilians are being committed by government forces 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 in Wau, including those forced into United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) protection of civilian sites, have described how hostilities have persisted in spite of the recent peace agreement. Women and girls are among the most vulnerable, with many reporting their experiences of sexual violence, assault and rape. A 23-year-old woman recounts:
“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 with impunity as those suspected of being allied to rebel forces are detained in two military facilities “without charge or access to legal assistance”. These rights violations 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 HRW claims the number fatalities have been 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. HRW claims that towards the end of August, South Sudanese authorities had permitted the UN and other aid organisations access to the area, but violent clashes sabotaged operations in late September and early October. In the Western Region, worsening humanitarian situations are being compounded by interrupted relief efforts, further endangering the lives of those who have been displaced by conflict and ongoing violence in South Sudan.
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