GENEVA, May 19 (Xinhua) -- A United Nations report released on Friday shows that violations and abuses against civilians from both sides of the conflict in South Sudan may "amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity."
As the result of an in-depth UN investigation in and around Yei town, some 150 km southwest of the capital city Juba, the report exposes cases of indiscriminate shelling of civilians; targeted killings; looting and burning of civilian property and cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls.
According to the report, until recently, Yei was largely a peaceful town, with between 200,000 and 300,000 residents of many different ethnicities.
In July 2016, violence erupted between government and opposition forces, which led to the departure of opposition leader Riek Machar together with a small group of followers across the Equatorias, into the Democratic Republic of Congo. As government forces pursued him, fighting simultaneously broke out along the route, particularly in Yei.
This violence fuelled strong divisions along ethnic lines and resulted in targeted killings, arrests, rapes and mass civilian displacement of more than half of the population of the town.
Satellite imagery used to corroborate allegations shows that there was widespread burning of homes and businesses, resulting in the forcible displacement of tens of thousands of civilians.
Even as people fled the violence, reports suggest that they were harassed, robbed and targeted.
The report was conducted by the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the UN Human Rights Office.