Displaced South Sudanese citizens wait Thursday at a border checkpoint in Joda, where Sudan's White Nile state meets the South's Upper Nile, after fleeing battles between rebel and government forces. (Ashraf Shazly / AFP via Getty Images)
JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN — The United Nations has evidence of the use of child soldiers and mass atrocities committed by both sides warring in South Sudan, a “horrifying human rights disaster” that has killed thousands, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official said Friday.
Mass killings, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and sexual violence are some of the other violations seen in the country, said U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic.
“Quite a number of child soldiers have been recruited in the so-called White Army,” he said, referring to the Nuer tribe’s militia fighting in Jonglei state. “We are thoroughly investigating these allegations.”
South Sudan’s conflict broke out Dec. 15 as a political dispute but quickly broke down along ethnic lines between followers of the president, an ethnic Dinka, and the former vice president, a Nuer.
The city of Bentiu — one of the cities that have traded hands between government and rebel forces — “simply did not exist anymore,” the U.N. official said. “It was completely burnt down.”
Simonovic told a news conference that he saw at least 15 dead bodies in Bentiu — in the oil-rich state of Unity — including one man’s arms bound behind his back.
“We have heard and have allegations of a large number of victims bound tied and killed. However I myself have only seen by the road one victim,” he said.
Simonovic said an independent and impartial fact-finding commission should be established to investigate the crimes and make those responsible accountable.
“It is punishable not only to command and commit crime but to not prevent them when you could and should have,” he said.
Simonovic would not describe the month-long fighting as a civil war but an “internal armed conflict” with ethnic dimensions between the Dinka and Nuer tribes.
In terms of the number dead Simonovic said: “I would not like to be specific in how many thousands but we are talking many thousands.”