The government and rival fighters in South Sudan are deliberately starving civilians for political and ethnic reasons, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported Thursday.
The report called the widespread starvation a potential war crime and warned of the major human rights violations that have occurred across the country.
The commission also scolded South Sudan’s political leaders for their apparent obliviousness to the ongoing suffering of civilians by the hands of soldiers and militant fighters.
Up until recently, South Sudan had been embroiled in a brutal civil war that lasted over five years, killing 383,000 and displacing 2.3 million people. While a peace deal was signed in 2018, both the government and armed groups have continued to engage in violence and corrupt behavior.
The war also resulted in ongoing food insecurity for more than 5 million people. As it is, 860,000 children in South Sudan are currently severely malnourished.
“Deliberate starvation is clearly occurring along ethnic and political lines, in an effort to marginalize dissident communities as well as those too disenfranchised to challenge the status quo because their day-to-day lives revolve around basic survival,” Commissioner Andrew Clapham said in the report.
Soldiers have also used sexual violence against both men and women as another “widespread and pervasive” tactic or weapon of war, according to the report.
Survivors of this violence remain stigmatized in South Sudan, while perpetrators are not held accountable for their crimes, allowing the cycle of sexual violence to continue.
“Time and again, we have been told by ordinary South Sudanese that accountability is essential for perpetrators to truly understand that what they are doing is wrong,” Commission Chair Yasmin Sooka said in the report. “Everybody understands that continued impunity will perpetuate violence.”
The commission also accused the South Sudan government of siphoning money from public funds and committing acts of bribery and tax fraud.
Government officials have moved millions of dollars out of the National Revenue Authority meant for humanitarian aid, exacerbating levels of poverty in the country.
As a result, 55% of the population are now facing food insecurity, which is only worsening due to the effects of climate change. Earlier this week, more than 2,000 locusts reached South Sudan, destroying crops and farmland.
“South Sudan is at a critical juncture at which its leaders need to make firm choices to move forward,” Barney Afako, a commission member, said in the report. “We urge all the parties to redouble their efforts to resolve the key outstanding issues.”