Children were being killed, abducted and used as child soldiers
JUBA – The seven-member delegation of the African Union's African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) reported on Friday "grave violations" of the rights of children are occurring in South Sudan that could constitute to crimes against humanity.
"The committee has concluded that the present conflict can be characterised as nothing less than a war on the children of South Sudan," Professor Julia Sloth Nielson, the ACERWC vice chairperson, told the press in Juba on Friday.
"We have been exposed to an array of grave violations of their rights which are interdependent and cumulative," she said.
Flanked by Justice Alfas Chitakuye, rapporteur of the committee, Ayalew Getachew, legal researcher, and Mashood Issaka, head of African Union office in South Sudan, Nielson outlined some of the violations against children.
"The violations monitored include killing, recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access, including access to health," she said.
South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December when President Salva Kiir accused Machar of plotting to overthrow his regime.
Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have been displaced in subsequent fighting, while large swathes of the population continue to face an increasingly grave humanitarian crisis.
In recent months, the two rivals have held on-again, off-again peace negotiations in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a Djibouti-based East African trade bloc.
The two sides are currently in Addis Ababa to discuss implementation of a June agreement on forming a transitional government before August 10.
This week, the African experts visited the affected areas including Jonglei State's Bor town.
"We have received numerous reports of children, even babies being wantonly killed," said Nielson.
She cited one report estimating that 490 children were identified in the many mass graves in and around Bor.
"As recently as 17th April, 12 children in the Bor POC (UNMISS IDP Camp) were randomly mowed down by marauders, the youngest a mere 3 months old," said the African expert.
Nielson also deplored the killing of parents, leaving many children orphans.
"The killings have left unaccounted numbers of children parentless, orphans and having to take to the streets," she said.
"Child headed households proliferate, caused not by unfortunate natural disasters or diseases, but by man-made causes, that is war," added the expert.
Nielson asserted that one of their major concerns is the "escalating" recruitment of children into forces associated with the armed conflict.
"Recent reports include girls in military uniform, reflecting the rapidly changing dynamic of the conflict on the protection of children," she said.
"The association of children with armed forces and groups is openly visible to all we have spoken to, including here in Juba," added the expert.
Abductions and sexual violence were some of the issues the experts have uncovered.
"The extent to which this war is being waged directly upon the children of South Sudan is apparent from the violent abduction of children, and the confirmed incidents of rape of both boys and girls," Nielson said.
"We understand that perpetrators are escaping with impunity," she added.
According to her, more than 900 children have been abducted in Jonglei State since December 2013.
"The scales of abductions go a long way towards confirming that this war is aimed at children," Nielson said.
The African delegation insisted that the violations "are perilously close to constituting a crime against humanity that is being perpetrated against the children of South Sudan."
They urged the government of South Sudan and all associated forces to honor commitments on children in armed conflict.
The delegation also urged the rebels to honor the commitment made in Addis Ababa to desist from mobilising child soldiers and to demobilize those already affected.
"Children are not objects of war, they are subjects and members of humanity," Nielson said. "South Sudan must come to this position immediately."
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