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South Sudan: Escalation of fighting worsening already intolerable suffering of civilians - Zeid

GENEVA (22 May 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday warned that the escalation of fighting in recent weeks between Government and opposition forces in South Sudan has resulted in alarming gross violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law and taken a terrible toll on civilians.

“For more than 17 months, women, men and children have been senselessly suffering through an entirely man-made catastrophe, living in the most inhumane conditions. More than two million people have been robbed of their homes, their livelihoods, their security, having lost family members to death and forced recruitment,” the High Commissioner said.

“And now, over the past few weeks, the opposing parties have actually managed to make a terrible situation much, much worse.”

“Up to 10,000 more people have joined an estimated 60,000 internally displaced people in the UN’s Protection of Civilian sites in Bentiu, in Unity State, in recent weeks, many trekking on foot over long distances in very treacherous conditions, with the constant threat of being waylaid and attacked by armed groups. Another 1,600 internally displaced people are seeking protection at the ill-equipped and vulnerable UN base in Melut in Upper Nile State. Seven were already killed when shells landed inside the compound.”

“These people have been living in terrible conditions and I shudder to imagine how much more the humanitarian situation can worsen with the onset of the rainy season. The unrelenting, indefensible conflict in South Sudan should enrage the conscience of each and every one of us in the international community,” Zeid said.

There have been alarming reports of gross violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law since the escalation of fighting on 29 April, including killings, rapes, abduction and the burning and destruction of towns and villages in various counties of Unity State. There has been heavy fighting around the town of Melut and the main oilfields of Paloch, and there are fears of a further, damaging escalation in the conflict.

Zeid said UN human rights monitors have been denied access by the SPLA to various sites in Unity State where they have sought to verify allegations of human rights violations and abuses. He urged the authorities to allow such access.

The High Commissioner noted that successive commitments to end the hostilities have failed to be implemented and there has been a “shameful lack of justice and accountability for victims of such gross violations in South Sudan.”

“Such persistent impunity has left many with unresolved grievances that are easily mobilised for renewed violence and revenge attacks,” the High Commissioner warned. “The fight against such impunity must be a priority if any peace in South Sudan is to hold.”

The High Commissioner warned the parties to the conflict that they must take all feasible measures to prevent harm to civilian lives and infrastructure, including the personnel and premises of the United Nations and humanitarian agencies.

For further information and media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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