GENEVA, Switzerland, March 11 (UPI) -- South Sudanese government troops allegedly participated in the rape and gruesome killings of civilians as part of systemic human rights violations amid the country's civil war, a U.N. report released Friday said.
"The report contains harrowing accounts of civilians suspected of supporting the opposition, including children and the disabled, killed by being burned alive, suffocated in containers, shot, hanged from trees or cut to pieces," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights office said in a statement. "Credible sources indicate groups allied to the government are being allowed to rape women in lieu of wages but opposition groups and criminal gangs have also been preying on women and girls."
Although all sides in the conflict -- which began in December 2013 when a political struggle between President Salva Kiir and rival Riek Machar exploded into violence -- were blamed for patterns of systematic violence, the SPLA, the government's military force, was singled out for committing the greatest number, and most brutal, of offenses against civilians since opposition weakened in 2015.
"The scale and types of sexual violence, primarily by government SPLA forces and affiliated militia, are described in searing, devastating detail, as is the almost casual, yet calculated, attitude of those slaughtering civilians and destroying property and livelihoods. However, the quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total. This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war, yet it has been more or less off the international radar," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra`ad Al Hussein.
The report notes the United Nations recorded 1,300 reports of rape in five months in 2015, in one part of South Sudan, the oil-rich Unity state.
All involved in the conflict have conducted "attacks against civilians, rape and other crimes of sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction and deprivation of liberty, disappearance, including enforced disappearance, and attacks on U.N. personnel and peacekeeping facilities," the report says, adding that most civilian casualties are not examples of collateral damage but come from deliberate and brutal targeting of combat attacks.
The report also includes eyewitness accounts of the slaying of children, gang rapes of women by soldiers, and the deliberate destruction of civilian buildings and other property, and notes at least seven journalists were killed in 2015 and a number of activists were arrested.
"Civil society activists, human rights defenders, humanitarian actors, journalists and print media, and even U.N. staff members have been the subject of threats, intimidation, harassment, detention and in some instances death by the government," the report says, recommending further monitoring of the situation by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and installation of a procedure to report on South Sudan's human rights situation and progress toward accountability.