Leaders of the two sides responsible for mass killings and rapes in the South Sudan conflict have amassed enormous wealth inside and outside the country, at least some of it illegally, according to an investigative report released on Monday by a Washington advocacy group.
The families and top associates of the principal opponents in the conflict, President Salva Kiir and his rival and former vice president, Riek Machar, own multimillion-dollar properties, drive luxury cars and stay at expensive hotels, “all while much of their country’s population suffers from the consequences of a brutal civil war and, in many places, experiences near-famine conditions,” according to the report.
Neither of the two men nor members of their immediate families are among the half-dozen South Sudanese officials facing the international sanctions imposed last year. But the report said the leaders had “benefited financially from the continuing war and have effectively ensured that there is no accountability for their human rights violations and financial crimes.”
The report, by the Sentry, a partnership of rights advocates and policy experts, was based partly on United Nations documents and other official sources of information. Its authors said it had taken nearly two years to complete.
The report appeared to be the first to draw a direct causal link between public corruption and armed conflict in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country. Tens of thousands have been killed there, mass rape has been used as a weapon, more than two million civilians have been uprooted, and more than five million — almost half the population — require food aid.
Contrary to perceptions that the conflict is rooted in an ethnically tinged feud between Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar that first erupted in 2013, the report said, the real struggle is over control of the country’s vast mineral and oil resources.
“The leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties manipulate and exploit ethnic divisions in order to drum up support for a conflict that serves the interests only of the top leaders of these two kleptocratic networks,” the report said.
Ateny Wek Ateny, a spokesman for Mr. Kiir, and Nyarji Roman, a spokesman for Mr. Machar, were not immediately reachable by phone or email for comment on the report. Mr. Machar, who fled South Sudan last month after a brief attempt at reconciliation, is believed to have taken refuge in Sudan.
The report was the first major project by the Sentry, whose partners have focused on the financial connections to endemic conflicts in some of Africa’s most troubled places, including Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The group’s founders are the actor George Clooney and John Prendergast, a rights activist and former United States government official. Both have long called for stronger laws to thwart the financing of conflicts in Africa.
In a telephone interview before the report’s release, Mr. Prendergast said the group had decided to make South Sudan its first priority “because it is such a political hot potato right now.”
After the war in Syria, South Sudan is considered the most urgent humanitarian emergency confronting the United Nations.
The report highlights the gaps in the international effort to end the conflict in South Sudan and protect civilians there from violence and hunger. There has been no suggestion to hold rights violators accountable, and United Nations peacekeepers have been unable or at times unwilling to protect civilians.
Last month, the Security Council authorized thousands of additional peacekeeping soldiers to be assigned to South Sudan to protect civilians, despite the government’s objections. The Council has threatened to impose an arms embargo, but has deferred taking action while the warring parties, particularly the government, have steadily expanded their arsenals. Rights activists say an arms embargo is long overdue.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, has called the South Sudan crisis “one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world.”
While it is not uncommon for political elites to exploit power for personal gain, Mr. Prendergast said South Sudan stood out. He said he had been struck by an attitude of impunity among the South Sudanese who have enriched themselves.
He expressed hope that the report would serve as a “vulnerability map” that led to legal action against those identified, as well as a warning to international banks and other institutions that do business with South Sudan.
The report found that members of the families of both Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar live in “luxurious homes” outside South Sudan, including residences in an upscale neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya.
The report said the chief of staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Gen. Paul Malong Awan, who officially makes about $45,000 a year, owns at least two luxurious villas in Uganda and a $2 million mansion in a gated community in Nairobi.
One of the general’s Ugandan residences, the report said, is next door to a home maintained by Gen. Gabriel Jok Riak, a South Sudanese military commander who is among six South Sudanese placed on a Security Council sanctions list last year. That step should have frozen his assets and prevented him from traveling outside South Sudan.
Other findings showed that Mr. Kiir’s wife, his brother-in-law and at least seven of his children, including a 12-year-old son, had stakes in “a wide range of business ventures” in South Sudan that suggested nepotism and corruption in violation of the country’s laws.
The report was released amid other signs of international frustration with South Sudanese leaders, particularly by the United States, which had high hopes for the country after it achieved independence in 2011.
On Friday, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, who helped lead a Security Council delegation to South Sudan the previous weekend to assess the crisis, expressed outrage that the South Sudanese government had threatened people who had talked to the delegation.
Ms. Power said in a statement that “intimidation and threats toward civil society must cease immediately.”