Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday called for [press release] South Sudan [JURIST backgrounder] leaders, the African Union (AU) [official website] and the UN to support an international commission of inquiry to investigate targeted attacks on civilians based on ethnicity. Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW, said, "Appalling crimes have been committed against civilians for no other reason than their ethnicity," and that both sides need to accept a credible, independent investigation into these crimes. UN estimates that 400,000 people are displaced in South Sudan, which they attribute to targeted killings of civilians, destruction of civilian property and looting by both parties to the conflict. HRW has urged both the government and opposition forces to end these abuses to civilians. HRW also called on the UN to issue an asset freeze and travel ban on any person credibly identifiable as responsible for these serious human rights abuses and violations of international human rights law. HRW's report came after their research team interviewed more than 200 victims and witnesses in Juba and Bor, where HRW found a large amount of the targeted killings to take place.
The conflict in the world's youngest nation has been characterized by ethnic and sectarian violence. UN officials said last month that they have found three mass grave sites [Guardian report] and believe that the death toll of the conflict may already be in the thousands. The US government deployed 150 military personnel [JURIST report] in December in preparation for possible evacuation of US citizens from South Sudan. More than 300 US citizens had already been evacuated as of the deployment. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) [official website] began evacuating [JURIST report] all non-critical staff from Juba earlier last month after a UNMISS base was assaulted, killing 20 ethnic Dinka civilians and two UN peacekeepers. In April, prior to the current conflict, UNMISS issued a report [JURIST report] urging the South Sudan government to do more to protect civilians from violence. South Sudan is the world's youngest sovereign nation, having celebrated the first anniversary of its independence [JURIST report] last July.