File Photo: A rebel soldier poses with his gun in Touch Riak, Leer county, South Sudan, on March 7, 2018, where famine has been declared since February 2017. (Xinhua/AFP)
UNITED NATIONS, May 11 (Xinhua) -- Three senior UN officials on Friday condemned the recent escalation of violence in South Sudan that resulted in widespread sexual abuse, and urged all parties to end the attacks against civilians, especially women and children.
Preliminary investigations by the United Nations have uncovered alarming patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses, including killings, pillaging, abductions, rape and gang-rape committed by both parties during heavy fighting in former Unity state in the north of the country in the last two weeks, they said.
These violations could constitute atrocity crimes, warned Pramila Patten, the UN secretary-general's special representative on sexual violence in conflict; Virginia Gamba, the special representative for children and armed conflict; and Adama Dieng, the special adviser on the prevention of genocide.
Sexual violence as a widespread and systematic tactic of war continues in South Sudan, reportedly to punish civilians who are perceived to be associated with a particular political or ethnic group, the officials said in a statement.
The United Nations has received reports of attackers demanding money, alcohol and cattle through threats of violence and intimidation, including sexual violence, the officials said.
Testimonies indicate that women and girls of all ages have been subjected to rape, they said.
Information collected over the past week indicates that at least 66 women and girls have been raped since attacks began on April 21, with the total number of cases likely to be much higher. In addition, dozens of women and girls are believed to have been abducted, with some having been released after enduring days in captivity, they said.
In former Unity state, young armed soldiers, reportedly affiliated to government forces, allegedly attacked the island of Meer, where a number of civilians, including women, children and the elderly, were reportedly killed and injured, while others, including children, drowned as they tried to escape. Instances of abductions and sexual violence against women and girls were also reported, said the officials.
They called on all parties in South Sudan to immediately end the use of sexual violence, cease the commission of atrocities, and hold the perpetrators of these heinous acts accountable as a matter of priority.
They urged the parties to the conflict to honor the commitments they have made to address conflict-related sexual violence and to protect the civilian population, and further called on the government of South Sudan to abide by the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Access they signed in 2017.
"The United Nations stands ready to support national efforts to end, prevent and address conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan and to improve the protection of civilians, including children," the three officials said.