John Ashworth, adviser to the churches in South Sudan, has written the account below concerning the situation in Malakal. Clearly it is a terrible situation and John is right to draw attention to it.


Malakal by John Ashworth

I have spoken to a number of eye-witnesses who have been in Malakal during all three of the attacks by opposition forces but who finally had to leave in the last few days as the opposition forces are not respecting anyone. The White Army appears to be completely out of control and intent only on killing, raping, looting and burning. They are not only murdering Dinka; it is clear now that they are also deliberately targeting Shilluk. In Malakal they have been saying so publicly. Equatorians have also been killed. People were being shot dead on the streets because they had no money to give to the opposition forces, usually because it had all already been stolen from them by another fighter a few minutes earlier. The White Army do not respect churches nor hospitals; they have no idea what is the UN or the Red Cross. “If God stands in front of me now, I will kill God!”

The articles below reflect only a fraction of the horrific stories I have heard from my friends and colleagues who survived the last two and a half months in Malakal. They did not pop in for a couple of days to interview people and count bodies; they did not hide in the UNMISS camp; they were out amongst the people, protecting people in their houses and churches, arguing with the armed forces and putting themselves in the firing line to try to save others, being threatened, watching people die in front of their eyes. They stayed until there was nobody left to protect; the people have fled to the bush, or to the UNMISS camp, or died.

Whatever abuses pro-government forces have committed earlier in this conflict, it should be clear to everybody (including the international community) that the current behaviour of opposition forces must be stopped immediately. There can be no ambivalence about “both sides”, at least not from those who survived three opposition attacks on Malakal. Many people I speak to on the ground cannot understand why the Ugandans are being criticised; they saved Juba and other towns from the same fate as Malakal and Bor. For all the faults of the democratically elected government, its mistakes in handling the current crisis, and the weakness of the national army, there is a widespread perception on the ground that this government (and the Ugandans) are the only thing that is preventing the citizens and towns of other states from suffering the same fate at the hands of opposition forces, and for that reason it needs to be supported in its task of providing security for the population while political negotiations continue in order to resolve the underlying conflict.


1. Rebels recapture South Sudan oil town

Rebels are said to have committed acts of violence against civilians
in Malakal since they arrived one week ago.

Last updated: 27 Feb 2014 21:01
Al Jazeera

[see link for video report from Malakal]

Rebel forces recaptured the south Sudanese town of Malakal one week
ago and have been committing acts of violence against civilians since
then, according to journalists.

The rebels broke into a church and raped and abducted young girls.

The only civilians remaining in Malakal are those too weak or too old to leave.

More than 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in two and a
half months of violence in the country.


2. The battle for Malakal [attached]

Excellent analysis from Africa Confidential


1. Rebels recapture South Sudan oil town

Rebels are said to have committed acts of violence against civilians
in Malakal since they arrived one week ago.

Last updated: 27 Feb 2014 21:01
Al Jazeera

[see link for video report from Malakal]

Rebel forces recaptured the south Sudanese town of Malakal one week
ago and have been committing acts of violence against civilians since
then, according to journalists.

The rebels broke into a church and raped and abducted young girls.

The only civilians remaining in Malakal are those too weak or too old to leave.

More than 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in two and a
half months of violence in the country.


2. The battle for Malakal [attached]

Excellent analysis from Africa Confidential


3. In South Sudan proof of more war crimes

February 24, 2014 12:18 AM
Daily Star (Lebanon)

JUBA: Women gang-raped and then executed in their hospital beds,
worshippers gunned down in their church and children executed: Details
are emerging of yet more atrocities committed amid South Sudan’s slide
into carnage.

According to witnesses, aid workers and other independent sources, the
battle for the key northern oil hub of Malakal, captured by rebels
during the week even though a cease-fire was supposed to be in place,
was marked by a horrific but now grimly familiar pattern of war

The sources, many of whom asked to not be identified for security
reasons, say Malakal has been left littered with countless bodies –
now being eating by dogs and vultures.

On Thursday, two days after rebels loyal to ex-Vice President Riek
Machar fought their way into Malakal and ejected government troops,
the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (Medecins
Sans Frontieres) relayed the first account of what had occurred at
Malakal’s Teaching Hospital.

“Many of the people in town were obliged to seek refuge in the
overcrowded UNMISS compound due to the high insecurity in the area,”
said MSF, referring to the U.N. base where more than 20,000 civilians
have taken shelter.

“Some of these displaced people reported to our teams cases of the
killing and rape of patients and relatives in the only functional
hospital in town.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross also said it was
“shocked” by abuses in the town, citing reports of “deliberate
killings and sexual violence” and “health care facilities being
destroyed and patients being attacked.”

Another source, who asked not to be named, gave more details.

“There were several women stuck inside Malakal’s Teaching Hospital. It
appears they were repeatedly raped and killed,” said the source,
adding that a “handful of women” were killed but unable to give an
exact number.

“The bodies showed signs of extreme, unimaginable sexual violence,”
including bite marks and stab wounds, the source added.

The motive for much of the violence has been ethnic: Members of South
Sudan’s Dinka tribe, to which President Salva Kiir belongs, have been
targeted by rebels, while government troops have been accused of
massacres of ethnic Nuer, the tribe of rebel leader Machar.

Atrocities have been committed by both sides, whether in the initial
clashes that marked the start of the conflict in the capital Juba on
Dec. 15, during repeated battles over town of Bor farther north, or in
the northern oil hubs of Bentiu and Malakal.

In another incident in Malakal, militiamen are believed to have gunned
down people who were sheltering in the town’s main church.

Speaking to AFP in Juba, UNMISS Spokesman Joe Contreras said U.N.
staff “cannot really say” whether the dead littering the streets of
Malakal were mainly civilians or soldiers “because they can’t really
get out of their vehicles” due to the presence of apparently
trigger-happy, young rebels.

UNMISS also said its staff in Malakal witnessed Thursday the
“extra-judicial execution of two children outside the perimeter … by
armed youths believed to be allied with armed opposition forces.”

Such is the intensity of ethnic hatred that even noncombatants have
reportedly been joining in the killing, something that has stunned
even seasoned observers of the world’s youngest nation.

Martin Plaut, a senior research fellow at the Institute of
Commonwealth Studies, who has been documenting the crisis, said he
been told by a well-placed source how some members of the U.N.’s
“locally recruited staff had to lock themselves into a bunker in a
United Nations base to prevent other local U.N. staff from murdering

“These were people who had worked together for years and stuck
together through thick and thin,” Plaut said.

South Sudan’s government has accused the rebels of being behind the
atrocities, but – in a first since the conflict began – said Monday
that 20 officers in the government army were “being investigated for
killing innocent civilians” in other incidents.


4. South Sudan: War Crimes by Both Sides

Commanders Need to Halt Abuses; African Union Should Begin Inquiry


(Nairobi) – Both pro and antigovernment armed forces are responsible
for serious abuses that may amount to war crimes in two key oil hubs
in South Sudan during recent fighting, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch researchers visited Malakal and Bentiu, the
capitals of two oil producing states, between January 29 and February
14, 2014. Researchers found that armed forces from both sides have
extensively looted and destroyed civilian property, including
desperately needed aid facilities, targeted civilians, and carried out
extrajudicial executions, often based on ethnicity.

“The wanton destruction and violence against civilians in this
conflict is shocking,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human
Rights Watch. “Both sides need to stop their forces from committing
abuses and hold those who have responsible for their actions, and the
African Union (AU) should accelerate its long promised

Since late December 2013 Human Rights Watch researchers have
investigated allegations of serious abuses and violations of
international humanitarian law in Juba, Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal.
Researchers interviewed hundreds of victims and witnesses of the
fighting and attacks, and investigated sites of attacks in all
locations where security permitted access.

The towns of Malakal and Bentiu are now extensively destroyed and
mostly empty because terrified residents fled to United Nations (UN)
camps and surrounding rural areas. Threat of further attacks and
targeting of civilians based on ethnicity prevent the vast majority
from returning. Both towns are important political and economic hubs,
where residents from many ethnicities have lived together.

Despite an agreement on January 23, 2014, to end the hostilities, and
signed on by both the government and antigovernment forces, now known
as SPLA-in-Opposition, there have been new attacks by both sides.
Credible reports indicate that government forces, in some cases
supported by the Ugandan military, attacked Leer, Gatdiang, and other
locations in Unity state in early February.

On February 18 opposition forces, including the so-called white army
of armed Nuer fighters, attacked Malakal. Human Rights Watch has also
received credible reports that on February 19 opposition forces killed
civilians at the Malakal hospital, and that fighting both near and
inside the UN camp in Malakal resulted in additional casualties.

A political dispute between President Salva Kiir, from the Dinka
ethnicity, and former Vice President Riek Machar, from the Nuer
ethnicity, is behind the conflict. The fighting began when members of
the South Sudanese presidential guard clashed in Juba, the country’s
capital, on December 15, 2013. President Kiir said the fighting was a
coup attempt by Machar and his allies, which Machar has denied. Since
December 15, the conflict has spread to other towns and villages in
Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei states.

In any armed conflict, murder, attacks directed at civilians, civilian
property – including objects used for humanitarian relief – and
pillage are prohibited and constitute war crimes. A clear pattern of
reprisal killings based on ethnicity, massive destruction, and
widespread looting has emerged in this conflict, Human Rights Watch
said, based on its research.

In Juba, Human Rights Watch researchers found that Dinka members of
South Sudan’s security forces carried out widespread killings and mass
arrests of Nuer soldiers and civilians during the first week of the
crisis. Human Rights Watch has also documented killings of Dinka
civilians in the town of Bor, where opposition forces – including the
Nuer “white army” fighters – destroyed and looted markets and homes,
and killed civilians hiding in their homes or other buildings. As
elsewhere in South Sudan, the attacking Nuer youths have cited revenge
for the killing of Nuer in Juba as a motivation.

In Bentiu and the adjacent town of Rubkona, a majority ethnic Nuer
area, there was fighting between pro and antigovernment members of the
country’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on December 20 and 21.
Opposition forces held the towns until January 10, 2014. Human Rights
Watch received reports that government forces, consisting of
pro-government SPLA and Sudanese rebel Justice and Equality Movement
(JEM) fighters, extensively looted shops, homes, markets, and offices
of aid agencies. Large areas of Bentiu and most of Rubkona were burned
during the recapture of the towns.

Although most civilians fled their homes ahead of the arrival of the
government forces, government soldiers shot and killed civilians who
remained, residents said. Human Rights Watch also received reports
that government forces burned villages in Guit county as they pursued
the opposition forces in the following days.

When opposition forces were in control, the antigovernment soldiers,
together with police and civilians, looted Bentiu and Rubkona,
including before fleeing the towns on and in the days before January
10. As antigovernment soldiers and civilians fled into rural areas,
the soldiers also stole precious food from civilians.

Researchers also found that prior to the first clash in December 2013,
ethnic Nuer – including members of government security personnel – had
attacked ethnic Dinka living in Bentiu and Rubkona, including targeted

In Malakal, an ethnically diverse town of mainly Shilluk, Nuer, and
Dinka communities, conflict erupted on December 24 when pro and
antigovernment forces clashed at SPLA barracks, the airport, and key
locations in town. The government recaptured the town on December 27,
but it changed hands again on January 14, 2014, January 20, and most
recently on February 18, following a third attack by opposition

The town has been extensively burned and looted, and almost all
civilians have fled to villages, churches, the hospital, or the UN
compound north of the town.

Human Rights Watch found that each side, when in effective control of
the town, attacked civilians, destroyed and looted civilian property –
including food and humanitarian aid – and targeted people based on
their ethnicity. During a week in January when the opposition
effectively controlled Malakal, for example, “white army” Nuer
fighters went house to house looting and robbing residents at
gunpoint, killing some in cold blood.

While government forces were in control of Malakal from January 20
through mid-February, soldiers looted and burned civilian properties
and carried out targeted killings of civilian ethnic Nuer men,
including inside the Malakal teaching hospital, witnesses and family
members told Human Rights Watch.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) provided safe haven for tens of
thousands of civilians – more than 27,000 in Malakal and more than
7,000 in Bentiu at the height of the conflict – and in some cases
transported residents to safety, almost certainly saving numerous

“The conflict in South Sudan is far from over, with civilians still at
risk of further abuse even inside UN compounds,” Bekele said.
“Military commanders from both sides have an obligation to immediately
and unequivocally order their forces to stop attacking civilians and
civilian property, and the commanders need to hold abusive soldiers to

A thorough and impartial investigation into human rights abuses during
this conflict is a necessary first step to secure justice for victims
and to respond to widespread anger, in particular resulting from the
ethnic targeted killings of civilians. Unaddressed, these abuses risk
leading to further violence, Human Rights Watch said.

On February 21 the UN mission released its interim report on human
rights abuses during the conflict, detailing abuses by both sides. The
report is a positive step and should be followed by more frequent
public reporting in an effort to prevent further abuses by both sides.

On December 30, 2013, the AU Peace and Security Council called for an
AU commission of inquiry to report by March 30, 2014, on human rights
violations and other abuses during the conflict. Despite the urgency
of this task, the commission has yet to be appointed.

“The start of the AU’s promised investigation is long overdue,” Bekele
said. “It is urgently needed, both to prevent further abuses and as a
crucial step in the path to lasting peace.”

For further details, please see below.

Bentiu and Rubkona

Bentiu and neighboring Rubkona are a gateway to key oil fields, with a
population largely of ethnic Nuer. On December 21, 2013, following
skirmishes between pro and antigovernment forces at army barracks,
General James Koang, the head of the SPLA’s Division 4, defected and
declared himself the military governor of Unity state. His forces
exercised control over the towns until January 10, 2014, when
government forces attacked and recaptured them.

During the period when Koang’s forces were in control, opposition
soldiers loyal to him, as well as police and civilians, extensively
looted markets, shops, and the offices of numerous international aid

After taking control of the town on January 10, pro-government forces
also looted and burned large areas of Bentiu, including markets on
either side of the main road and almost all of Rubkona market and
surrounding neighborhoods, leaving only charred remains.

Bentiu and Rubkona are currently under government control. Some
civilians have returned to the town looking for food, but the majority
of the population continues to take shelter at the UN base or have
fled to other areas.

Attacks on Civilians by Government Forces

As the government forces entered Rubkona from the north on January 10,
Dinka who had taken shelter at the UN compound, including some
pro-government soldiers who had fled during Koang’s defection, jumped
over the fence and joined the attacking forces. Witnesses saw the
government soldiers give these men weapons, including machetes, and
described seeing some men from this group beat Nuer civilians living
next to the base and burn numerous huts.

At least five people were killed, including an elderly woman who was
burned in her hut. “They came, pushed me in, and then lit my house on
fire,” said another elderly woman who survived and who still had
severe burns on her face and arms when she spoke to Human Rights
Watch. “They were singing in Dinka when they came up to me. When they
saw that I had [traditional scarification] marks, they identified me
as Nuer.”

Almost all of Rubkona and Bentiu’s civilian population had fled the
towns ahead of the government attack. Government forces shot at the
remaining civilians, killing some as they fled toward the UN compound.
A witness told Human Rights Watch that he saw Sudanese rebels from JEM
and government soldiers taking aim and shooting civilians as they were
running toward the UN base.

After the government forces recaptured the town, witnesses saw about
30 civilian bodies on the road between the town and the UN base,
including some in areas where there had been no exchange of fire with
opposition forces. Civilians who fled to nearby streams and swampy
areas said the government soldiers shot at them in their hiding places
in tall rushes.

“I saw three people shot … in the head and chest,” said one man who
hid among reeds for three days without food or water. “On the second
day of hiding they decided to walk out [of hiding] and then they were
shot.” Another man who hid nearby in a riverbed said soldiers burned
the rushes, perhaps to get a better look at where people were hiding:
“If you got out you would be killed, if the grass [rushes] moved they
shot at you,” he said. The same man saw soldiers shoot a boy running
beside him as he fled, and saw the bodies of a woman and two other
children in the river after soldiers shot them.

Human Rights Watch was also shown the remains of five civilians
reportedly shot on the same day in a neighborhood of Rubkona, close to
these hiding areas. Their bodies had been burned at the site. A young
man, around 18 years old, said he had been shot in his left thigh by
government soldiers as he ran away from them. A government worker said
his 19-year-old nephew was also killed on January 10 and his body had
been left in the Kallevalle neighborhood of Bentiu. Several people
told Human Rights Watch that they had seen or heard of bodies left in
various neighborhoods in Bentiu following the recapture of the town.

Ethnic Targeting Before the Government Attack

Human Rights Watch found that prior to the clashes on December 20,
2013, ethnic Nuer members of security forces targeted ethnic Dinka
civilians in Bentiu and Rubkona in reprisal for the killings of Nuer
in Juba in December.

A government administrator was killed and two others were injured when
a mix of Nuer police and wildlife personnel attacked a house in
Bentiu, a relative of the inhabitants said. One woman said Nuer
members of the wildlife service beat her aunt so badly on the night of
December 20 that she later died. Another man said that Nuer policemen
had killed four people in his house after he fled.

One church leader said he gathered frightened Dinka in his church on
the night of December 19 as Nuer civilians and armed police moved
around his neighborhood looking for Dinka: “I heard people talking
behind my fence saying, ‘We will kill all Dinka.’ It was a mix of
civilians and police.” He saw the body of a Dinka woman, a cleaner in
his church, among around 15 corpses sent to the hospital the next day.

A senior government official said that about 70 Dinka civilians had
been killed during the targeted killing in the towns. As most Dinka
had already moved to ethnic Dinka parts of Unity state, Human Rights
Watch was unable to ascertain the full extent of the killings.

Efforts by government officials, army officials, and the UN mission to
collect Dinka and move them to the UN camp probably helped save many


Conflict spread to Malakal, the ethnically diverse town with large
groups of Shilluk, Nuer, and Dinka, on December 24. Nuer forces
commanded by General Garhouth Galwak defected from the SPLA and other
security organs and clashed with the pro-government forces in several
locations, including near the UN compound north of town.

The government recaptured the town on December 27 and held it for
several weeks. The town changed hands again with an opposition attack
on January 14, 2014, back to a government recapture on January 20, and
a another opposition attack on February 18. The attacking opposition
forces in January and February included thousands of fighters in the
so-called white army, the name used to describe large groups of armed
Nuer youths fighting en masse, in addition to uniformed opposition

Forces on both sides killed many civilians, often based on their
ethnicity. The death toll is unknown, but many people interviewed by
Human Rights Watch said they saw dozens of bodies lying on main roads
in January and February. In addition to the targeted killings,
civilians were killed in the crossfire during clashes near the UN
compound on December 24, 2013, January 20, 2014, and February 18, and
as a result of fighting inside the camp for displaced people inside
the compound.

Attacks on Civilians by Opposition Forces

During their attack on January 14, the opposition “white army”
fighters, wearing colored headbands to indicate their country of
origin, went house to house demanding money, phones, food, or other
goods. They looted indiscriminately, including from ethnic Nuer
residents, but appear to have carried out more violence against
non-Nuer residents.

In one example, two armed “white army” members shot a man from Maban
county in the face and stomach, killing him instantly, when he refused
to hand over money and mobile phones, said his 22-year-old wife, who
witnessed the shooting:

When the rebels came from Nassir, we were at home. Some came together
and demanded a mobile. My husband, Jumaa, said ‘No, we don’t have
one.’ The rebels left but then two of them came back and again asked
for a mobile and money. They pointed their gun at Jumaa and shot him
in the belly and in the mouth.

A priest from Western Equatoria from the Moro ethnic group, told Human
Rights Watch that he had remained in town following the opposition
attack on January 14. He said that a soldier had arrested his son,
tied his hands, and took him to the river at gunpoint. “The neighbor
who saw this called us, and me and his mother went running after the
soldier,” the clergyman said. “He started to fire in the air, then
recognized me and let my son go.”

Many witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had left
the town before the January 14 attack. They said that people who
returned to the town after the attack reported seeing dead bodies on
the streets or in homes, and that the victims apparently had been shot
during robberies. Since the opposition forces recaptured the town on
February 18, witnesses reported seeing additional dead bodies and
burning houses.

Ethnic Targeting by Government Forces

Human Rights Watch received consistent reports from many sources that
government soldiers targeted ethnic Nuer males for arrest and killings
after January 20. A Nuer Presbyterian pastor was among those reported
killed, as he was shot in the street in the days after the town was

“When the government came, they targeted Nuers,” said a witness, a
clergyman. “One pastor we know was killed. He put on his collar and
wanted to visit the hospital but was shot on the way.”

A 20-year-old student told Human Rights Watch that a group of seven
soldiers arrested him and two friends as they were walking to the UN
compound on January 20. The soldiers tied the youths’ hands with rope,
put them in a vehicle, and then handed them over to other soldiers at
a military barracks.

“They lined us up outside of a building and started shooting at us,”
he said. “When they shot at me I just fell down.” The three of them
were left for dead, but an hour later another soldier discovered that
one youth was alive and took him to the hospital. His wounds required
amputation of his right hand.

Another student, 18, said that on January 24 a group of government
soldiers arrested him and two other Nuer youths at their home in
Muderia area, took them to the riverbank, and shot at them.

“They took us because we are Nuers,” the youth said. “They walked us
to the riverside near the hospital. They told us to sit down and then
they shot us. I tried to run into the river after I was shot and I
fell into the water.”

He was shot in the buttocks and the thigh, and could not walk. Another
soldier found him later that day and took him to a church. He believes
the other two youths were killed.

Soldiers also arrested Nuer men at the Malakal teaching hospital,
where thousands of residents, most of them Nuer, had sought refuge
when the government recaptured the town. Witnesses said the soldiers
pulled the young men out of the hospital, took them near the river,
and shot them. One 24 year old student who had sought refuge in the
hospital said he went to the riverbank after hearing gunshots in the
evening and saw four bodies of Nuer men in their twenties.

Another student, also in his early twenties, was in the hospital
because he had been shot in the crossfire during the December 2013
clashes. He told Human Rights Watch that a soldier had entered his
room where he was staying, demanded his younger brother, 20, come out
of the hospital, then took him near the river and shot him. Their
60-year-old mother found the body the next day. “When I went to the
river I saw my son with my own eyes,” she told Human Rights Watch. “I
couldn’t bury him because soldiers were at the river.”

Widespread Destruction, Looting

The clashes and attacks, widespread looting and destruction, and other
abuses by both sides have left the town destroyed and empty. Many
witnesses noted that Malakal has never seen this level of destruction,
even during the long civil war. Tens of thousands of civilians, some
fleeing ahead of the first clash in December 2013, are now in villages
or taking shelter at churches or the UN compound, seven kilometers
from the town.

Following initial looting and burning by opposition forces in
December, thousands of “white army” fighters from Nassir, Ulong, and
other Nuer areas did substantial damage during six days in January
2014, looting the remaining shops, homes, and humanitarian aid
compounds. These forces continued to destroy civilian properties when
they regained control over the town following a February 17, 2014,
attack, according to aid workers.

Government forces also looted and burned civilian property after
January 20, said displaced residents who are now at the UN compound,
particularly as law and order broke down and many of the state’s top
officials defected or fled. When Human Rights Watch visited the town
on February 13, several homes were aflame or smoldering from fires
caused by vandalism.