JUBA: Massive plundering of South Sudan's public coffers is undermining human rights in the world's youngest nation and threatening its already fragile peace process, a UN report said Thursday.
Since independence a decade ago, South Sudan has struggled to emerge from five years of civil war, and is battling chronic instability, economic chaos, ethnic violence and a hunger crisis.
The UN's Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said a "staggering" amount of money and other wealth had been diverted from public coffers and resources -- more than $73 million (62 million euros) since 2018, with almost $39 million stolen over a period of less than two months.
It described the figure as only a fraction of the overall amount looted, saying President Salva Kiir had admitted as far back as 2012 that South Sudan's ruling elites had diverted more than $4 billion.
The report said that through these actions, "South Sudan's leaders are undermining human rights and endangering security" and called on them to implement the terms of the peace deal to ensure proper economic management.
"This plundering also continues to fuel political competition amongst elites, and is a key driver of the ongoing conflict, violations and serious crimes, jeopardising the prospects for sustainable peace," the commission said in a report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
A 2018 ceasefire to end the civil war and a power-sharing deal was agreed between Kiir and his rival turned deputy Riek Machar but little progress has been made in fulfilling the peace deal's terms.
The commission said its investigations revealed the involvement of politicians, government officials, international corporations, military personnel, and multinational banks in these "crimes".
It accused South Sudan's elites of deliberately adopting a "highly informal" system of oil revenue collection without independent oversight and transparency that is enabling the misappropriation of public funds.
The country, which ranks last on Transparency International's corruption index along with Somalia, is almost entirely dependent on earnings from oil.
"The commission's documentation of the corruption, embezzlement, bribery, and misappropriation of state funds by political elites is merely the tip of the iceberg," commission chair Yasmin Sooka said in a statement.
The report also charged that the oil industry was dominated by unaccountable consortiums, whose actions it said have caused environmental degradation and damage to people's health.
It spoke of oil spills in areas of northern Unity state that have led to pre-term births, stillbirths, congenital anomalies or deaths in new-borns, blindness, male sexual dysfunction, and low fertility.
It said it had identified several individuals allegedly linked to rights violations and economic crimes whose names would be passed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for possible investigation or prosecution.