(UN Report of the Commission on Human Rights in S. Sudan) - Between 39 and 69 bodies were collected and recorded by the police
, including those of at least 15 women and 10 children. The death toll is however likely to be much higher.
Burning of homes and looting of over 100 shops by SPLA soldiers was also reported. The fighting and attacks on civilians resulted in massive population displacement with between 26,000 and 36,000, largely Fertit, people sheltering in places of refuge in Wau town by 28/29 June.
Regular armed clashes continued to occur in the Wau area after the June 2016 events. In early April 2017, there was a considerable reinforcement of SPLA forces in Wau. On 8 April, the SPLA mounted a new offensive against SPLA-IO forces who were in control of the Bazia area to the south and west of Wau. In the course of this operation, on 9 April, an SPLA convoy was ambushed in which two high-ranking SPLA officers and three soldiers were killed. One of the officers was the brother of the Governor of Rumbek. This incident appears to have been the specific catalyst for the subsequent outbreak of violence against non-Dinka civilians in Wau town, which began overnight on 9-10 April 2017.
On 10 April, there was heavy shooting in the south and south west areas of Wau town and SPLA soldiers and groups of armed men launched attacks on civilians. Witnesses recounted how the attackers went from house-to-house targeting Luo and Fertit by checking their ethnicity prior to shooting them.
Between 24 and 29 deaths were reported to the police as a result of the violence. The victims were almost exclusively male and appear to have been targeted on the basis of their Luo and Fertit ethnicity. IOM estimated that between 22,000 and 25,000 people were displaced in Wau town as a result of the 10 April violence.
South of Wau, signs indicating active military engagement were observed. Reports indicated that a number of clashes between the SPLA and the SPLA-IO took place between 16 April and June 2017. The Baggari area was abandoned, and attacks on civilians were reported by displaced people from the Bazia area. In December 2017, Bazia was largely deserted and the school, health clinic, and public buildings and water points had been destroyed by the SPLA. Reportedly over 100 people were killed and eight women were raped, including girls under the age of 10, during the clash on 16 April. Burnt houses were observed in and between Taban and Bazia. UNMISS and CTSAMM were prevented from undertaking patrols to Bazia for a number of months, making it impossible to monitor the human rights situation.
The Commission also received reports that human rights and humanitarian law violations occurred in February and April 2016 in Wau Town, and from April to October 2017 in the Bazia/Taban area; however, it recommends further investigations into these events prior to making factual findings.
West Bank Offensive
Historical grievances between the Shilluk and the Dinka Padang over claims to Malakal and other lands on the East Bank of the river Nile were reignited after Shilluk Major General Johnson Olony’s defection from the Government forces. By August 2015, the Government held Malakal and virtually the entire East Bank of the White Nile, while the SPLA-IO/Agwelek controlled the West Bank of the river. Tensions were exacerbated by the creation of new states that included contested parts of the East Bank in the Dinka-dominated Eastern Nile state, with Malakal as its capital; many perceived this as a power grab of Shilluk lands.
In late January 2017, fighting to the east and south of Malakal was followed by a SPLA coordinated offensive on the West Bank of the White Nile. The SPLA worked its way up the West Bank, pushing the SPLA-IO/Agwelek northwards, and commonly resorting to mortar and artillery shelling of villages. There are reasonable grounds to believe that an SPLA aircraft bombed areas near Wau Shilluk.
By early February, the SPLA had brought in 3,000 soldiers as reinforcements to capture the Shilluk-populated Wau Shilluk, ten kilometers north of Malakal. Heavy firing and shelling continued. Wau Shilluk was deserted except for those unable to flee due to age or infirmity. A number of shells killed at least three civilians. Witnesses stated that when the SPLA ground offensive reached the village, soldiers shot civilians as they fled. A number of older residents were burned to death in their tukuls.
Civilian and humanitarian objects including schools, churches, medical clinics and the market were looted, damaged or destroyed. A similar pattern of destruction and looting was witnessed in nearby Fathau, Both, and Padit villages; Witnesses also observed multiple groups of Dinka-Akoka civilians and SPLA soldiers arriving by boat and removing all remaining possessions, including building and household items, and livestock from Wau Shilluk.
The SPLA offensive continued to push north, re-displacing IDPs from Wau Shilluk up the West Bank to Padit, Fathau, Lul and Kodok and, then as the SPLA shelled these areas, onwards to Aburoc. By 10 February 2017, an estimated 13,000 IDPs had arrived in Aburoc. Others were living in the bush around Wau Shilluk, Fashoda and Panyikang Counties and in Sudan. A Shilluk man (Witness 438) told the Commission of his devastating flight: “Four of the villagers whom I was running and hiding with, died of hunger, thirst and, fatigue, while in the bushes on our way to Aburoc. The heat of the sun worsened our physical condition. So, during the day we took shelters in the almost balding bushes and moved up north in the evening to save the remaining energy that we had. One among those four individuals that died in our journey was my eleven year-old son who got so weak due to starvation, thirst and exhaustion.”
Meanwhile, in mid-February, Government aircraft from Juba began transporting largely-Dinka IDPs from Central/Eastern Equatoria to Malakal. Multiple flights were observed bringing over 2,000 people. According to a Government official, a total of 15,000 IDPs would be relocated in the region.
82. In late April, the northward offensive along the West Bank resumed, reportedly with a massive reinforcement of approximately 5,000 SPLA and SPLA-IO (TD) soldiers. The area between Padit and Lul saw extensive firing, including heavy artillery. The SPLA captured Lul on 25 April. According to a witness, there was one Agwelek company in Lul who were lightly armed and fled before the government forces arrived. Despite the lack of armed resistance, a number of witnesses said that SPLA soldiers fired at civilians and villages, reportedly killing at least three people. The soldiers looted food supplies and farm animals, before burning houses. Witnesses gave very similar accounts from Bol, Bot, and Oteng
83. When the offensive reached Kodok on 26 April, it resulted in further displacement of civilians to Aburoc, where approximately 30,000 civilians, mostly elderly, women, and children sought refuge. A further 20,000 fled across the border into Sudan between 29 April and 6 May. The fighting in Kodok forced humanitarian organisations to evacuate staff to Aburoc. Villagers in Kodok later recounted that they did not have food because soldiers from both sides looted everything. Women also mentioned specific incidents of rape.
84. The SPLA offensive between January and May 2017 resulted in Government control of the entire stretch of the White Nile River from Malakal north to Renk. Minor clashes between the SPLA and the SPLA-IO/Agwelek forces and intra-Agwelek clashes continued over the next couple of months. This led to the defection of some Agwelek fighters to SPLA-IO (TD), culminating in the capture of Aburoc by SPLA-IO (TD) forces on 11 September 2017. In the shelling and firing, three women were reportedly killed. Amid allegations of looting, up to 10,000 people were displaced.
Violations and alleged crimes
85. Based on the evidence collected, the Commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that SPLA soldiers deliberately killed civilians and extensively looted and destroyed civilian property during their ground offensive along the West bank of the Nile in 2017. The evidence
provides reasonable grounds to believe that the SPLA directed attacks against the civilian population. These amount to serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
86. The Commission also has reasonable grounds to believe that the SPLA and SPLA-IO (TD) offensive led to a massive displacement of Shilluk civilians. The evidence makes clear that this was a direct result of widespread violations committed by the SPLA forces. This displacement gave rise to serious violations of human rights law.
87. These violations are not exhaustive. Access limitations enforced by the SPLA have restricted reporting and documentation. For example, allegations of rape could not be adequately investigated given the time constraints. The Commission recommends that these allegations be thoroughly investigated.
E. Pagak Offensive, 2017
88. The south-eastern part of Upper Nile State, bordering Ethiopia, has been under SPLAIO (RM) control since the conflict began in late 2013, with the SPLA-IO (RM) main headquarters located in the border town of Pagak. By many accounts, the Pagak Offensive to “liberate” the area from the SPLA-IO (RM), coupled with the reconfiguration of the Northern Upper Nile State on 6 July 2017, was an attempt to safeguard the Palouch oil fields, and their associated economic benefits, among the Dinka community.
89. In June 2017, the SPLA launched a sophisticated operation to dislodge the SPLA-IO (RM) from Pagak through Guelguk, Mathiang and Maiwut, which lie northeast of Pagak. SPLA forces utilized heavy artillery bombardment to attack numerous towns and villages along the line of advance. The Government forces reportedly engaged in systematic and widespread attacks on civilians and the looting and destruction of civilian objects throughout the campaign, causing over 40,000 persons to flee to Gambella, Ethiopia between mid-July 2017 and mid-January 2018. The Governor, local SPLA Commander, and the majority of the SPLA troops involved in the campaign were from the Nuer community, leading several. witnesses (Witnesses 184, 189, 292, 333, 344, 371) to voice their concerns about further intra-ethnic fragmentation and a wider Government strategy to eradicate the Nuer community.
90. By 2 July 2017, the SPLA had arrived in Mathiang, continuing to engage mortar fire and heavy artillery. The SPLA-IO (RM) and Nuer White Army resisted the attack before withdrawing. SPLA forces destroyed humanitarian compounds, schools, a church, water points and a local hospital. The Commission also received information that SPLA-IO (RM) forces abducted three humanitarian workers. The Commission received numerous reports of civilians being subjected to arbitrary killings, assault and gruesome acts of sexual violence, in addition to the destruction and looting of their property.
91. One witness, from Malow (Witness 301) told the Commission how she watched as SPLA soldiers castrated her husband and forced her to hold his bloody testicles in one hand as she shielded their new-born child with her other hand. She then watched three SPLA soldiers rape her 70 year-old mother and coerce her twelve year-old son into having sex with his grandmother. After raping the grandmother, the SPLA soldiers shot and killed her. The woman’s husband and one-month old baby subsequently died during their flight to Ethiopia.
92. As the SPLA continued east towards Maiwut, their tanks got bogged down in the seasonal mud, stalling the advance. The SPLA Chief of General Staff deployed attack helicopters to reinvigorate the campaign, with SPLA forces reaching Maiwut in late July.
93. Despite the SPLA-IO (RM) base being located two kilometres outside the town, the SPLA ground forces stormed Maiwut, raped women and massacred civilians in Maiwut and the surrounding villages. SPLA troops embarked on a similar pattern of looting and destruction, burning schools, the hospital, NGO facilities, as well as homes before advancing to Pagak.
94. One witness (Witness 333) recounted returning from seeking shelter in the bush to find that his mother had been blinded by SPLA soldiers who gouged her eyes out with spears as she unsuccessfully tried to defend her 17 year-old daughter from being raped by fourteen soldiers. Seventeen SPLA soldiers then raped the man’s blind mother, while his father was found beheaded with his castrated penis stuffed in his mouth.
95. Witnesses reported that as the SPLA arrived in Pagak in late July 2017, they began shooting at civilians who had fled during earlier points in the offensive. Fierce fighting continued before the town was captured by 7 August 2017. SPLA IO (RM) forces had already counter-attacked to recover Mathiang and Maiwut.
96. Meanwhile, civilians who had fled earlier in the Government offensive described walking for four to five days without food or water to reach Pagak and the Ethiopian border with family members becoming separated or children dying along the journey from starvation and thirst. Several women were reportedly raped as they sought food for their children.
97. The intense fighting led to the evacuation of nearly all humanitarian personnel, which resulted in a dearth of aid for an estimated 50,000 civilians in an already dire humanitarian situation.
98. Buoyed by the SPLA’s Pagak success, the Minister of Defence, Kuol Manyang declared that the SPLA would “crush all remaining rebels in South Sudan within 30 days.” Intermittent fighting continued around Pagak up until December 2017.
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