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South Sudan Soldiers Accused of Rape, Killing

South Sudan government soldiers in the town of Koch, Unity state, South Sudan. A U.N. 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 U.N. human rights chief said Friday, March 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Jason Patinkin, File)
South Sudanese Soldiers Accused of Brutal Violence
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The United Nations accuses South Sudanese soldiers and militias of using rape as a weapon against women.

And Amnesty International says government forces suffocated men and boys in a shipping container to kill them.

In its report, the U.N. Human Rights Office says the soldiers used a “scorched earth policy” against the civilian population. It calls the scale, or level, and type of sexual violence one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world.

Between April to September 2015, the U.N. recorded 1,300 reported rapes, just in the oil rich Unity State alone.

The report says sexual assaults are carried out with extreme brutality. Girls and women of all ages are the victims of multiple, or more than one, gang rapes. Some women are then killed, while others are taken and held in sexual slavery as "wives” for soldiers in barracks, or military housing.

Rupert Colville is a U.N. human rights spokesman. He tells VOA that youth militia with ties to the government are being allowed to rape women, instead of being paid wages.

“It seems they are not being paid, that they are being given carte blanche to rape and to steal cattle. Basically those are the two, sort of, bits of war bounty they get — the women and the cattle. It is really an unbelievable picture and nothing being done apparently by the government to stop it.”

Colville warns that the rape, killing and pillage, will continue until people are punished for the crimes they commit. Colville says more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes since South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013.

In a separate report last Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International accuses South Sudanese government forces of suffocating at least 60 men and boys in a shipping container last October.

Amnesty International says government forces loaded them in a shipping container on the grounds of a former Catholic church in Leer town.

Michelle Kagari is Amnesty’s deputy regional director for eastern Africa.

“We have multiple witness accounts who could hear these people banging on the walls, shouting, screaming.”

Witnesses told Amnesty that the containers did not have any air holes. Amnesty says evidence shows that government forces outside the container kept the detainees locked inside, even after some had died.

Again, Michelle Kagari:

“The act of leaving men in a container clearly in distress, having knowledge of their distress, having the ability to do something about that distress, and allowing the men to eventually die of suffocation, that act is a war crime, irrespective of the status of the people.”

Amnesty International researchers went to the location where witnesses said the bodies were dumped. They were able to identify human remains.

In an interview with VOA, South Sudan’s presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny denied government involvement in these crimes.

“Our forces did not commit or did not kill any civilians in October,” he said.

"However, we do condemn anyone who kills civilians in the strongest terms possible. But in this case, our forces did not commit any atrocities in Unity state.”

The warring parties in South Sudan agreed to a peace agreement in August 2015. But fighting, killing, abductions, sexual violence and attacks on civilian property have continued to happen in parts of the country.

I’m Anne Ball.

VOA’s Lisa Schlein wrote this story with help from Jill Craig. Anne Ball adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

suffocate –v. to die because you cannot breathe

“scorched earth policy” –n. the policy in warfare of removing or destroying everything that might be useful to the other side

horrendous –adj. very bad or unpleasant, horrible

brutality –n. cruel, harsh unusually violent treatment of another person

prevalence –n. common or widespread

carte blanche – phrase. permission to do something any way you want

pillage –n. to take things from one place by force during war

distress –n. unhappiness or pain