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UN rights experts deplore atrocities in South Sudan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A woman carries a child as she joins others from more than forty South Sudanese women's organizations as they march through the city to express the frustration and suffering that women and children face in Juba, South Sudan, December 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A team of United Nations rights experts has deplored the atrocities committed by all conflicting sides in South Sudan, urging punishment of the perpetrators.

After a 12-day visit to the country, the team on Friday reported harrowing tales of torture, retaliatory killings, abduction of women and children and sexual violence.

"We are deeply disturbed by what we witnessed and heard throughout our visit. The deprivation and range of sexual violence are hard to describe, people are targeted and suffering just for being who they are," Andrew Clapham, one of the UN experts, said in a statement.

The statement came a day after South Sudan’s government and rebel groups inked a ceasefire agreement after talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The deal, according to the UN, is a "last chance" to stop the four-year civil war. The truce will take effect on December 24.

The photo taken on December 21, 2017 shows African Union Chairman Moussa Faki (2nd L-top) sitting with the members of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) as they attend a signing ceremony for a ceasefire agreement among South Sudanese parties to end the four-year war in the country, at the headquarters of African Union in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. (Photo by AFP)

The rights commissioners welcomed the truce but remained "gravely concerned over the lack of accountability for serious crimes which is fueling impunity throughout the country," said team chair Yasmin Sooka. "Those responsible for this war against civilians must be stopped with the perpetrators of these horrific acts brought to justice."

An 89-year-old widow in the northwestern city of Wau recounted to the team how her husband and two sons were shot in front of her, while a 60-year-old woman said she had been gang-raped by several soldiers.

Young men were also gang-raped or forced to rape relatives in front of family members, according to the rights commission.

"Those perpetrating these crimes seem to be intent on breaking all social norms resulting in societies being torn apart," the team chair said.

The UN experts are due to release a full report on their findings in March 2018.

South Sudan has been gripped by conflict since President Salva Kiir’s main deputy and current opposition leader Riek Machar defected in December 2013 over allegations of plotting a coup.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict. Machar was forced into exile in South Africa but forces loyal to him still operate in Pagak and other regions of the world’s youngest country.

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