NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The United Nations commission of inquiry for South Sudan now has broader powers to pursue human rights abuses like mass rape and torture in the country's three-year civil war.
The U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday gave the commission the ability to collect and preserve evidence and point the finger at suspected perpetrators. "The council has taken a significant step toward accountability," Laila Matar, a U.N. advocate with Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The U.N. inquiry began a year ago to document human rights violations in South Sudan. Since then, a fragile peace agreement there has collapsed and ethnic fighting has spread.
The commission of inquiry this month reported that South Sudan was experiencing ethnic cleansing and conditions that could lead to genocide. It said most of the human rights violations have been committed by South Sudan's government security forces.
"Atrocity crimes have occurred with impunity, and the potential for serious deterioration remains very real," the U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. He accused South Sudan's government of refusing to express "any meaningful concern" for the country's growing crisis, which now includes famine.
The commission of inquiry's findings will be shared with the African Union hybrid court for South Sudan, whose creation has been delayed even as the international community calls for accountability.
South Sudan's conflict has created one of the world's largest humanitarian crises, with more than 1.6 million refugees. Famine has been declared in two counties, with more than 100,000 people suffering.
Tens of thousands have been killed in the civil war that began in December 2013 between those loyal to President Salva Kiir and his then-deputy Riek Machar, who is now in exile in South Africa.
This version corrects to say the council's action was taken Friday.