UN sends mission to 'assess' South Sudan atrocities

Geneva (AFP) - The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday decided to send monitors to conflict-ravaged South Sudan amid allegations of horrific abuses, including soldiers allegedly gang raping young girls and burning them alive.

The 47-member council called on the UN rights office to "urgently undertake a mission" to South Sudan "to monitor and report on the situation of human rights and to undertake a comprehensive assessment of alleged violations and abuses of human rights, with a view to ensuring accountability."

The text, put forth by the United States and Britain among others, had been significantly watered down to get African countries onboard, allowing it to be adopted without a vote.

The resolution recounts a long line of violations, including targeted killing of civilians, mass displacement, sexual violence and the use of child soldiers.

US representative Keith Harper, who presented the resolution to the council, described the situation in South Sudan as "one of the most grave situations we face... in the world."

The council, he insisted "cannot stand silent in the face of such violations and abuses."

Perpetrators of all violations, including "alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes should be held accountable and brought to justice," the resolution said.

South Sudan's civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

The conflict has plunged the world's newest nation into a dire humanitarian crisis, with more than 2.5 million people facing severe food shortages and two million driven from their homes.

Recent UN reports have detailed particularly brutal abuses in the latest fighting in Unity state.

The UN children's agency last month described how "boys have been castrated and left to bleed to death... (and) girls as young as eight have been gang raped and murdered," with other children "thrown into burning buildings."

A report by the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) this week painted an equally dire picture, decrying a "new brutality and intensity in the conflict, and saying women and girls were burned alive in huts after being gang raped in at least nine separate incidents."

Thursday's text also called on the South Sudanese government "to investigate and report on atrocities... and to hold those responsible to account."

The resolution passed a day after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on six commanders from both sides of South Sudan's conflict for their role in the spiralling violence.