The promise of peace and justice in South Sudan has been “squandered” and the country is “poised on the brink of an abyss,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.
Ban said he is appalled by the scale of sexual violence documented by human rights monitors, who found that South Sudanese government soldiers raped dozens of ethnic Nuer women and girls last week just outside a U.N. camp where they were seeking protection.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan has documented 120 cases of rape and sexual violence against civilians throughout Juba, the capital, since the latest fighting began, spokeswoman Shantal Persaud said Wednesday.
“We demand accountability for all atrocities and that leaders of South Sudan commit to the peace process,” Ban said at the opening of a Security Council session on peacebuilding in Africa.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been riven by ethnic violence nearly since it was founded in 2011 with civil war breaking out in 2013 when a between the Dinka and Nuer peoples. A peace agreement was signed in August, but fighting continues.
“Gruesome atrocities are being committed daily, civilians targeted and killed, women raped, homes looted and destroyed. Both government and opposition-affiliated soldiers have been implicated in these horrors, yet there has been no effort to hold the perpetrators accountable. This then compounds the tendency to ascribe collective guilt, that in turn fuels ethnic targeting and the ethnic targeting further fuels the cycle of violence,” ,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council.
Power called on countries to come together to strengthen the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and to redouble efforts to influence the choices made by South Sudanese leaders.
Britain’s Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the latest reports required thorough investigation and highlighted the need for an arms embargo and sanctions — something the Security Council has discussed, but so far has failed to act on.
“There needs to be a new mandate for UNMISS and South Sudan by the end of the week. So either it’ll be a substantive new mandate, as has been discussed, or a technical rollover to allow more time for negotiations,” Rycroft using an acronym to refer to the U.N. peacekeeping mission.