A UN report describing sweeping crimes like children and the disabled being burned alive and fighters being allowed to rape women as payment shows South Sudan is facing "one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world," the UN human rights chief said on Friday.
Zeid Raad al-Hussein lamented the crisis in the nearly 5-year-old country has been largely overlooked by the international community, and his office said attacks against civilians, forced disappearances, rape and other violations could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The UN report released on Friday is the work of an assessment team deployed in South Sudan between October and January and says "state actors" bear most responsibility for the crimes. It said Zeid recommends that the UN Security Council consider expanding sanctions already in place by imposing a "comprehensive arms embargo" on South Sudan and consider referring the matter to the International Criminal Court if other judicial avenues fail.
In scorching detail, the report, which focused on events in 2015, cited cases of parents being forced to watch their children being raped, and said investigators had received information that some armed militias affiliated with government forces "raided cattle, stole personal property, raped and abducted women and girls" as a type of payment.
"The quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total," Zeid said in a statement. "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."
David Marshall, the UN human rights officer who coordinated the assessment team, told reporters in New York that the "machinery of violence" by the government needs to be dismantled.
"It was a reign of terror," he said.
Also on Friday, human rights watchdog Amnesty International accused the South Sudanese government of war crimes after its troops allegedly suffocated 60 boys and men in a cargo container at a Catholic church and then dumped their bodies in an open field.