Saturday, March 12, 2016

South Sudan Forces “Deliberately” Suffocated Civilians in Unity State: Report
March 11, 2015 (NAIROBI) - Forces loyal to the South Sudan government “deliberately” suffocated over 60 men and boys detained in a shipping container before dumping their bodies in an open field in Leer, a town in Unity state, a campaign group said Friday.

Amnesty International, in a report, said its researchers unearthed fresh evidences upon visiting Comboni Catholic Church where the October 2015 killings allegedly took place.

At the time killings took place, the Comboni Catholic Church compound had reportedly been taken over by government forces.

Remains of many broken skeletons, it said, remained strewn across the ground at the site, which is about a kilometer from Leer town.

“The arbitrary arrest, torture, and mass killing of these detainees is just one illustration of the South Sudanese government’s absolute disregard for the laws of war. Unlawful confinement, torture, willfully causing great suffering, and willfully killing are all war crimes,” said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.

Researchers from the campaign groups reportedly interviewed more than 42 witnesses, including 23 people who said they saw the men and boys being forced into a shipping container and later saw their dead bodies either being removed or at a mass burial site.

Between 20 and 23 October 2015, witnesses told Amnesty International, government soldiers arbitrarily arrested dozens of men and boys in Luale village and Leer town.

“They [soldiers] then forced them, with their hands tied behind their backs, into one or more shipping containers located at the Comboni Catholic Church,” the report says.

Witnesses told the campaign group, they heard the detainees crying and screaming in distress and banging on the walls of the shipping container, which, had no windows or other form of ventilation.

Civilians and military officials reportedly had direct knowledge that the detainees were in distress and dying, but did nothing to help them.

“For example, one witness said that she saw the then area commander order soldiers to open the container and remove the bodies of four dead men and then close the container again on the remaining detainees who were still alive inside,” it further revealed.

Another witness told Amnesty International researcher that all, but one of the remaining detainees had died by the following morning.

“We could see the people inside and they were not alive….what we saw was tragic…the container was full of people. They had fallen over one another and on to the floor. There were so many people”, it said.

The new revelation, if confirmed, could cast dark shadows on the progress so far made in the implementation of a peace deal signed by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and the armed opposition leader, Riek Machar to end over 20 month of conflict in the country.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and over two million displaced in the country’s worst ever violence since South Sudan seceded from neighbouring Sudan in 2011 following a referendum.


Meanwhile, despite evidence of war crimes no steps have been taken to hold perpetrators to account or to provide reparations, including compensation to relatives of the deceased for the loss of their loved ones, the campaign group further observed.

“Dozens of people suffered a slow and agonizing death at the hands of government forces that should have been protecting them. These unlawful killings must be investigated and all those responsible brought to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty,” said Fakih.

“In order for effective prosecutions to take place, the African Union Commission should immediately take steps to set up the hybrid criminal court provided for in the August 2015 peace agreement, and ensure that it immediately opens investigations into crimes under international law, including into this atrocity,” he adds.

Reports on the killing of up to 60 civilians in a shipping container in Leer was first revealed by the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism, which is tasked with reporting on the implementation of the permanent ceasefire.


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