The African Union released a comprehensive — and devastating — report on ongoing conflict in South Sudan which documents gang rape, mass graves, and forced cannibalism. The report was written last year, but not released until this week in an effort to prevent renewed violence amid fragile peace efforts in the world’s newest country.
“The stories and reports of the human toll of the violence and brutality have been heart-wrenching: reports of people being burnt in places of worship and hospitals, mass burials, women of all ages raped; both elderly and young, women described how they were brutally gang raped, and left unconscious and bleeding, people were not simply shot, they were subjected, for instance, to beatings before being compelled to jump into a lit fire,” the report said.
All these accounts evoke the memories of some of the worst episodes of earlier human rights violations on the continent, including in South Sudan itself.
“The commission heard of some captured people being forced to eat human flesh or forced to drink human blood,” it added. “All these accounts evoke the memories of some of the worst episodes of earlier human rights violations on the continent, including in South Sudan itself.”
The report documented extreme violence and although it said that many of them could constitute war crimes, it did not believe that genocide had been carried out.
A commission of inquiry found that violence began after President Salva Kiir fired his former vice president, Riek Machar in the summer of 2013. The two belong to rival ethnic groups who have battled in the past. The political split between them reinvigorated ethnic strife with violence committed both by government forces loyal to Kiir and rebels led by Machar. Thousands have been killed and more than two million have been forced to flee their homes by conflict that has racked South Sudan since then.
South Sudan analyst James Copnall said that the report provides evidence that contradicts Kiir’s claim that violence broke out after a failed coup against him.
“[T]he fact that the AU body rejects President Kiir’s coup claim, and holds his forces responsible for organized killings in the very first days of the war, will shape how the rest of the world and future generations allocate blame for the conflict,” he said, but also noted that Machar’s forces should not be absolved of blame.
“It should not be forgotten that Riek Machar’s forces are accused by the AU of terrible and terrifying abuses too,” Copnall said.
Here are some excerpts from the report.