Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Government of South Sudan to take decisive action to identify and prosecute those responsible for recent violent attacks in the Jonglei region.
“This goes far beyond traditional cattle-rustling,” said the Africa Director at HRW, Daniel Bekele. “The conflict is far more vicious, involving the deliberate targeting of villagers, including women and children, for abuse and has taken dangerous ethnic and political overtones.”
On December 23 last year, an estimated 8000 armed men from ethnic Lou Nuer villages in central Jonglei, launched an attack on ethnic Murle villages in the eastern part of the state. The town of Pibor was particularly badly hit.
The attackers burned down villages, killed and injured people with machetes and guns, and abducted women and children.
A witness said he had seen three dead women who appeared to have been raped with blunt objects.
The death toll has not yet been officially verified, but Merle leaders reported more than 3000 deaths. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes and remain displaced.
Since early January, the South Sudan government has promised to investigate the attacks but so far there is little evidence of progress.
Meanwhile, there have been retaliation attacks by Murle earlier this month, and more attacks are expected.
“To stem this horrific cycle of violence, the organisers have to be held to account,” said Mr Bekele.
International aid organisations working in the country have expressed concern about their ability to provide adequate assistance.
The United Nation's World Food Program has registered more than 30,000 people in Pibor in need of aid.
South Sudan UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande, highlighted the lack of agencies working in the area as a major problem in helping those affected.
“In some of the worst-hit places, there are only a handful of partners on the ground. In some places, there are none,” she said.
Human Rights Watch proposed an independent commission to be established to support South Sudan in the investigations into the violence.
The South Sudanese government has indicated that it is considering a civilian disarmament operation in the affected areas.