Rebels say found evidence of war crimes that may warrant ICC case against S. Sudan army

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Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain is seen inside the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday June 17, 2010. The two men suspected in a deadly 2007 attack against African Union peacekeepers in Darfur have voluntarily surrendered to the International Criminal Court to face war crimes charges. (AP Photo/Toussaint Kluiters/Pool)

While the evidence remains unclear, the National Salvation Front said in a statement dated June 11, that it “has gathered evidence from independent investigators, family members of the deceased and other victims of a spree of recent coordinated ethnic-based war crimes targeting specific areas and communities in Central Equatoria State (CES).”

South Sudan’s National Salvation Front (NAS) led by General Thomas Cirilo Swaka has said that it has ‘gathered evidence’ of war crimes committed during the ongoing conflict by South Sudan government forces alleging that civilians have been punished for their support to the rebel group, or because of affiliation to certain ethnic communities.

While the evidence remains unclear, the National Salvation Front said in a statement dated June 11, that it “has gathered evidence from independent investigators, family members of the deceased and other victims of a spree of recent coordinated ethnic-based war crimes targeting specific areas and communities in Central Equatoria State (CES).”

In late May, a Central Equatoria state church cleric was arrested along with a 10-year-old Sunday school boy and two others and was later on murdered allegedly by uniformed members of South Sudan People’s Defense Forces.

The army issued a statement distancing itself from the murder and instead pointed an accusing finger on the National Salvation Front saying “picking up and gruesome killing bore hallmarks of NAS’ clandestine activities in Greater Lanya.”

“We are no sure that our servicemen deployed in Lainya were responsible for picking up members of the Church and killed them in cold blood. This information was brought to the attention of the chief of defense force, Gen. Santino Deng Wol who promised to carry out an investigation because the level of accusation is so serious,” army spokesman Major-General Lul Ruai Koang told Sudans Post on June 2.

“We have just shared with him this information and he said he is not sure whether our forces were responsible for those killed but however, he promised that investigation will be done,” he added.

In a press release on May 26, just days before the killing of the Catholic Church Priest, the Cirilo-led opposition group said government forces are punishing “punishing civilians for allegedly supporting NAS and/or because of their ethnic background.”

It alleged that the SSPDF has also resolved to “use force and pursue a policy of mass displacement, uprooting and punishing civilians through the creation of intra and inter-tribal conflicts to keep communities busy fighting each other, thus preventing them from paying attention to national issues and the failures of the government in Juba.”

While reiterating its commitment to the Cessation of Hostility Agreement (CoHA) signed in late 2017 which the rebel group and the government recommitted to in January last year, the National Salvation Front said it “will not relent from its commitment and mandate to defend not only itself but the civilians who look up to NAS for safety and protection.”

If proven, the rebel group may seek to go to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the first and only permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.