West News Wire: Experts from the United Nations have urged South Sudanese authorities to look into officials accused of supervising routine gang rapes, some of whose victims were as young as nine-year-old children.

A county commissioner in the oil-rich northwestern state of Unity is suspected by the South Sudanese Commission on Human Rights of orchestrating gang rapes at a military camp.

The UN experts said in a statement that the documented abuses included beheadings, rape victims being made to carry the severed heads, burning alive the victims, and days of savage sexual assaults.

According to commission member Barney Afako, “Conflict-related rape and sexual violence in Unity State has grown so systematic and is a direct outcome of impunity.”

Investigators say sexual abuse has been used as a weapon by all sides in South Sudan’s civil conflict, which erupted in 2013 and triggered Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

In the abuses outlined in Unity, multiple witnesses said the state official planned and ordered the attacks, which were led by his deputy and followed strikingly similar patterns in different areas, according to the UN statement.

In response, Michael Makuei, South Sudan’s information minister and government spokesman, dismissed the commission’s statement as a fabrication.

“They come and sit in hotels here in Juba and fabricate these false reports on South Sudan to make a living,” he told the Reuters news agency. “ I am saying these are false reports fabricated against the government.”

The commission said the abuses cut across all political affiliations. It said one governor in the opposition in the state of Western Equatoria was appointed to his post despite being responsible for the 2018 abduction, rape, torture and sexual slavery of more than 400 women and girls.

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Lam Paul Gabriel, military spokesman for Vice President Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), said it had had no hand in the reported crimes.

“This report is misplaced because they do not know who is fighting who in those areas where these accusations are made,” Lam said.

Attempts to reach officials from Unity and Western Equatoria to comment were unsuccessful.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but two years later descended into a spiral of brutal ethnic violence and revenge killings.

A peace agreement was signed in 2018, but 9.4 million people will require humanitarian aid next year, representing more than three-quarters of the population, according to UN figures.

The UN Human Rights Council set up the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan in 2016 to monitor rights and make recommendations on accountability.

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