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South Sudan Faces One of World’s Most ‘Horrendous’ Human Rights Situations: U.N. Rights Chief

GENEVA — A U.N. report describing sweeping crimes like children being burned alive and fighters raping women as payment shows South Sudan is facing "one of the most horrendous" human rights situations in the world," the United Nations rights chief said Friday.

Image: A displaced women residing in the United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Malakal, examines a burnt and looted area
A displaced woman in the United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Malakal on Feb. 26. ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN / AFP - Getty Images

Zeid Raad al-Hussein lamented that the crisis in the world's newest nation has been largely overlooked by the international community. His office said attacks against civilians, forced disappearances, rape and other violations could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The U.N report released Friday is the work of an assessment team deployed in South Sudan between October and January and says "state actors" bear most responsibility for the crimes.

U.N. Report Details Horrific Crimes in Civil-War Ravaged South Sudan 0:38

It said Zeid recommends that the U.N. Security Council consider expanding sanctions already in place by imposing a "comprehensive arms embargo" on South Sudan and consider referring the matter to the International Criminal Court if other judicial avenues fail.

Related: Army Burned Girls Alive in World's Newest Nation

In scorching detail, the report cited cases of parents being forced to watch their children being raped, and said investigators had received information that some armed militias affiliated with government forces "raided cattle, stole personal property, raped and abducted women and girls" as a type of payment.

"The quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total," Zeid said in a statement. "This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war, yet it has been more or less off the international radar."

Image: South Sudanese civilians flee fighting in an United Nations base in the northeastern town of Malakal
South Sudanese civilians flee fighting in an U.N. base in Malakal on Feb. 18. JUSTIN LYNCH / AFP - Getty Images

The human rights situation has "dramatically deteriorated" since South Sudan erupted into civil war in December 2013, the report said. The crisis stemmed from a falling-out between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, Riek Machar, that boiled over into an armed rebellion. Tens of thousands have died and at least 2 million people have been displaced from their homes.

The 17-page report notes that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had already in May 2014 pointed to "reasonable grounds" to consider that crimes against humanity had been committed in South Sudan. In a sign that little has been done since then, the report said "the killings, sexual violence, displacement, destruction and looting that were the hallmarks of the conflict through 2014 continued unabated through 2015."

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Recommendations in previous reports to the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, a 47-member body currently in session in Geneva, "remain largely unimplemented," it said.

Image: South Sudanese civilians flee fighting in the northeastern town of Malakal
Another image showing civilians fleeing fighting in Malakal on Feb. 18. JUSTIN LYNCH / AFP - Getty Images