The United Nations Security Council should place an arms embargo on South Sudan, say experts, who signalled that the oil-rich country's President Salva Kiir and a rebel leader who was once his deputy qualify to be blacklisted over a brutal two-year civil war.
The latest confidential report by the United Nations panel of experts, seen by Reuters on Monday, states that Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar are still completely in charge of their forces, implying that the pair are directly to blame for killing civilians and other actions that warrant targeted sanctions.
The 15-member Security Council has long-threatened to impose an arms embargo, but veto power Russia, backed by council member Angola, has been reluctant to support such a move.
A political dispute between Kiir and Machar sparked the civil war. But it has widened and reopened ethnic fault lines between Kiir's Dinka and Machar's Nuer people. More than 10,000 people have been killed.
The experts added that "there is clear and convincing evidence that most of the acts of violence committed during the war, including the targeting of civilians ... have been directed by or undertaken with the knowledge of senior individuals at the highest levels of the Government and within the opposition."
However, they say that the government appears responsible for a larger share of the bloodshed in the oil-rich country.
The South Sudan mission to the United Nations in New York was not immediately available to comment on the report's accusations.
U.N. peacekeepers in South Sudan are also "regularly attacked, harassed, detained, intimidated and threatened."
The conflict in South Sudan, whose 2011 secession from Sudan had long enjoyed the support of the United States, has torn apart the world's youngest country. The experts said some 2.3 million people have been displaced since war broke out in December 2013, while some 3.9 million face severe food shortages.
The UN report also describes how Kiir's government bought at least four Mi-24 attack helicopters in 2014 from a private Ukrainian company at a cost of nearly $43 million.
"They have been vital in providing an important advantage in military operations, have facilitated the expansion of the war and have emboldened those in the Government who are seeking a military solution to the conflict at the expense of the peace process," it said.
In response, Machar's rebels were now trying to "acquire shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to counter the threat of the attack helicopters, specifically citing the need to continue and indeed escalate the fighting," UN experts' coordinator Payton Knopf told the council sanctions committee on Jan. 14.
Both sides signed a peace deal in August but have consistently broken a ceasefire, while violations of humanitarian and human rights law have "continued unabated and with full impunity," the experts said.
Those violations include extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence, extrajudicial arrest and detention, abductions, forced displacement, the use and recruitment of children, beatings, looting and the destruction of livelihoods and homes.
The experts said almost every attack on a village by the warring parties involved the rape and abduction of women and girls and that "all parties deliberately use rape as a tactic of war, often in gruesome incidents of gang rape."
Experts coordinator Knopf told the council committee the human cost of the war is comparable to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen relative to South Sudan's population of 12 million.
The experts ask the council to blacklist "high-level decision makers responsible for the actions and policies that threaten the peace, security and stability of the country."
The names of the individuals the experts recommend for sanctions in the form of an international travel ban and asset freeze are not included in the body of the report, though UN diplomats say that both Kiir and Machar are prime candidates.