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Child rape, mass graves detailed in S. Sudan; UN says human rights crimes

Amnesty documents ‘gross human rights abuses’ in the young nation; UN says violations by both sides in conflict

A pair of grim reports detailed the worsening crisis unfolding in South Sudan, with the United Nations stating that crimes against humanity had likely occurred and a rights group releasing evidence of dozens of mass graves, child rape and grotesque mutilation of civilians.

Amnesty International published a report containing scores of testimonies of "war crimes" in the world's youngest nation.

Meanwhile, the U.N. said its peacekeeping body in the country had found “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed during the conflict by both government and opposition forces.”

The international body warned of "countless" gross violations of human rights.

Amnesty’s study documented evidence to back up the claim. Through its report the organization catalogued human rights abuses by government troops loyal to President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

The country has been dogged by unrest, with widespread violence breaking out in mid-December. Since then, at least 10,000 people have been killed and an estimated 1 million displaced.

"The ethnic dimensions of the conflict are deepening as fighters engage in reprisal attacks, continuously escalating the cycle of violence," Amnesty said.

"The longer ethnic rivalries are allowed to deepen and fester, the more fragmented South Sudan will become, making reconciliation and sustainable peace much more difficult to achieve," it added.

The group said its researchers have discovered dozens of mass graves, including five in the town of Bor containing 530 bodies. The report also documents the rapes of children and the shooting deaths of the elderly lying in hospital beds. Testimonies in the report describe civilians "grotesquely mutilated" with their lips sliced off. Gunmen on both sides have burned down homes, destroyed medical facilities, and looted food stockpiles and humanitarian aid, the researchers found.

The United Nations has previously warned of the risk of famine and genocide in the country.

"Habitual impunity for human rights violations, including international crimes, is a central factor behind repeated cycles of violence," Amnesty said, adding that both sides had "shown total disregard" for the most basic of human rights.

On Tuesday, the United States unveiled its first sanctions in response to the "unthinkable violence," targeting one military leader from each side.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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