New York: Gross human rights abuses, including rapes, mass killings and torture, have been committed by both sides in the brutal conflict that erupted in South Sudan towards end of last year, according to a new UN report which said civilians were directly targeted in the violence.
"Based on thorough documentation and investigations, there are reasonable grounds to believe that gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed by both parties to the conflict," the report prepared by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said.
The report cited the conflict`s "devastating" impact on civilians, who have suffered heavily through attacks on hospitals and churches, and acts of sexual violence perpetrated against women of different ethnic groups.
The report provides a comprehensive account of human rights violations and atrocities perpetrated during the hostilities that engulfed South Sudan since December 15 last year.
It is based on more than 900 interviews with eye witnesses and victims and provides a timeline of the conflict, which was sparked by a political dispute between President Salva Kiir, who belongs to the Dinka ethnic group, and former vice-president Riek Machar, who belongs to the Lou Nuer.
The report also notes the death of two Indian peacekeepers on December 19 in Akobo following an assault on a UNMISS base.
It said "from the very outset...Gross violations of international law occurred on a massive scale."
UNMISS chief Hilde Johnson said "grave violations and atrocities" have been committed by both sides as the fighting has spread through the country`s four states.
She cited two "particularly horrific" incidents covered in the report - a mass killing early on in the conflict in a police station near Juba, and the killing of some 200 people in Bentiu two weeks ago.
In both instances, the killings were "clearly ethnically motivated", she said, underscoring that "the need for accountability is absolutely essential?the perpetrators of such acts need to be held to account".
Johnson said the report also tells the story of the conflict`s impact on the civilian population.
"It shows attacks against women, children, the elderly and disabled," she said, decrying not only "the ferocity of the abuses but the fact that incidents have been perpetrated where these vulnerable are being targeted equally - if not more than - fighting forces".