An inquiry into South Sudan’s civil war has cited evidence of forced cannibalism, rape, dismemberment and other atrocities.
This comes after an African Union (AU) Commission of Inquiry report was released on Tuesday. The report details sexual violence, brutal killings, and “extreme cruelty exercised through the mutilation of bodies, burning of bodies, draining human blood from people who had just been killed and forcing others from one ethnic community to drink the blood or eat burnt human flesh”.
These atrocities were found to be “committed by both sides to the conflict”, mostly against civilians, the report said.
Evidence of mass graves has also been discovered in the key conflict towns of Juba, Bor, Bentiu and Malakal, yet AU investigators noted that “there are likely a number of graves in Juba that have not been visited”.
The commission, led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, began carrying out its research in 2014.
Thousands of people have been murdered, and more than two million have been displaced since the civil war began in the South Sudan capital of Juba in December 2013. The conflict was found to be triggered by a political power struggle between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his Nuer rival, former Vice-President Riek Machar.
“We were led to conclude that the initial fighting within the presidential guard arose out of disagreement and confusion over the alleged order to disarm Nuer members,” the report said. As a result, “ensuing violence spiralled out of control, spilling out into the general population.”
The report also presents testimony that these war crimes were an “organized military operation that could not have been successful without concerted efforts from various actors in the military and government circles”.
However, it specified that there are “no reasonable grounds to believe that the crime of genocide has occurred” during the conflict.
Presidential spokesman for the AU, Ateny Wek Ateny, told BBC News that these acts of violence were “not sanctioned by the government, it is the individual that might have taken the law into their own hands”.
However, Mr Ateny is urging international authorities to punish those responsible for the violence.
Three UN agencies have expressed concern that widespread famine is inevitable if fighting continues in South Sudan, unless increased assistance and access is given to aid agencies.
The United Nations said that a peace agreement signed in August has failed to improve the situation. – Matina Moutzouris
Top photo of South Sudanese women in March 2015, from Voice of America’s multimedia archive.