Warring parties in South Sudan must take all possible measures to protect civilians, including thousands of internally displaced people currently sheltering at UN bases, said Amnesty International as fighting continued to threaten civilian areas in the capital, Juba, today.
On 10 and 11 July, artillery shells landed in civilian neighbourhoods near Vice-President Riek Machar’s base in Jebel neighbourhood, injuring civilians and damaging their homes.
Renewed clashes between rival armed forces since 7 July have left hundreds of people dead and others displaced. Many civilians have not left their homes in days and are running out of food and water. Others have fled to churches and to UN displacement sites, which have themselves come under artillery fire in recent days.
“International law is clear – both sides must refrain from attacking civilian objects, including UN sites where desperate civilians are sheltering. The rival parties must remove military objectives from civilian areas and work with the UN Mission in South Sudan to provide civilians with safe passage out of frontline areas,” said Elizabeth Deng, Amnesty International’s South Sudan Researcher.
“Attacks on civilians and UN personnel delivering humanitarian aid are violations of international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes.”
For peace to stand a chance, the UN Security Council must ensure that all countries halt any further flow of weapons into South Sudan by immediately imposing a comprehensive arms embargo
The renewed fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to First Vice-President Riek Machar also further highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive global arms embargo on the country. Amnesty International has been lobbying for a halt to arms transfers since the conflict first erupted in December 2013 to help bring an end to serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in South Sudan.
“For peace to stand a chance, the UN Security Council must ensure that all countries halt any further flow of weapons into South Sudan by immediately imposing a comprehensive arms embargo,” said Elizabeth Deng.
“The embargo, which should cover the supply, sale and transfer of weapons, ammunition and military vehicles, will reduce the likelihood of all disagreements resulting in widespread death and destruction.”
The international community must also impose targeted sanctions against civilian and military officials reasonably suspected of responsibility for crimes under international law or human rights violations.
“While targeted sanctions are not a substitute for criminal accountability, in the short term they would serve as a deterrent to further violations, where none currently exists,” said Elizabeth Deng.
“The African Union must also expedite the formation of the long-awaited hybrid court to prosecute crimes committed during the conflict and end the culture of impunity that continues to feed this cycle of violence.”
This latest round of fighting erupted on Thursday 7 July in Juba’s Gudele neighbourhood, pitting Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and SPLA-In Opposition (IO) forces loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar. Five SPLA soldiers were reported killed in the fighting.
On Friday evening, gunfire erupted outside the presidential palace where President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar were meeting. At a joint press conference afterwards, the two leaders called for calm and urged their forces to stop fighting.
There was further exchange of heavy gunfire on Sunday morning with some artillery shells landing in UN compounds, and further reports of fighting on Monday 11 July.