At least 73 civilian deaths and 217 rapes have been recorded by the United Nations since renewed clashes broke out last month in South Sudan, a top UN official said Thursday, noting that violence was carried out by both government and opposition forces.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on the UN Security Council to take action as violence continued in war-torn South Sudan, where renewed fighting erupted on July 9 as the country marked the fifth anniversary of its independence from Sudan.
Zeid warned that while some civilians died when they got into crossfire between fighting parties, many people, especially from the Nuer ethnic group, were killed in targeted attacks by government forces.
Sexual violence has been rampant as women and girls have been raped and gang raped by both opposition and South Sudanese government forces, which are known as the South Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
"According to the information we have gathered so far, those most affected were displaced Nuer women and girls and those responsible seem to have been mostly SPLA," Zeid said.
Zeid expressed concern over reports that UN peacekeepers failed to help women who were reportedly raped close near their positions.
The UN was investigating these allegations, said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
"We take it very seriously that if any soldiers have failed in their responsibilities, including protecting people who then go on to be raped, that's a very, very serious problem," Haq said.
The UN mission to South Sudan said that its protection of civilian sites provide medical and psycho-social services to victims of rape.
The violence dealt a blow to a peace agreement that was signed last year in hopes of ending a power struggle between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar, which turned into a military conflict in December 2013.