South Sudan atrocities exposed

Women and girls who leave the United Nations base outside Bentiu in South Sudan to collect firewood to sell face ambush, rape and abduction by groups of armed men. (Tristan McConnel, AFP)

Women and girls who leave the United Nations base outside Bentiu in South Sudan to collect firewood to sell face ambush, rape and abduction by groups of armed men. (Tristan McConnel, AFP)

A new report has laid bare the scale of the atrocities committed during South Sudan’s 22-month civil war, detailing cases of rape, torture, mutilation and instances of forced cannibalism.

The report, from the African Union, disputes the government’s claim that the conflict began after the country’s former vice-president, Riek Machar, attempted a coup against President Salva Kiir in December 2013. The violence has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, the displacement of more than two million, and prompted fears of a famine.

“The commission found cases of sexual and gender-based violence committed by both parties against women,” says the report.
“It also documented extreme cruelty exercised through the mutilation of bodies, burning of bodies, draining blood from people who had just been killed and forcing others from one ethnic community to drink the blood or eat burnt human flesh.”

The AU investigators, led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, found the conflict began with a skirmish between members of the presidential guard in the capital, Juba, followed by the government-organised killings of ethnic Nuer civilians and soldiers. Kiir is a Dinka, while Machar is a Nuer.

“From all the information available to the commission, the evidence does not point to a coup,” says the report. “We were led to conclude that the initial fighting in the presidential guard arose out of disagreement and confusion over the alleged order to disarm Nuer members. The commission notes further, that there are also suggestions of a mutiny in the presidential guard, and the ensuing violence spiralled out of control, spilling out into the general population.”

Hundreds of Nuer men were rounded up and shot in Juba. According to the report, civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting since it erupted.

“The commission found that most of the atrocities were carried out against civilian populations taking no active part in the hostilities,” it says. “Places of religion and hospitals were attacked, humanitarian assistance was impeded, towns pillaged and destroyed, places of protection were attacked and there was testimony of possible conscription of children under 15 years old.”

Investigators found evidence of mass graves in Juba, Bor and Malakal, but noted that “there are likely a number of graves in Juba that have not been visited”.

The report concludes that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that both sides have committed crimes and violated human rights.

However, despite the “seeming ethnic nature” of the conflict, the AU investigators said they did not have reason to think that genocide had been committed.

On Tuesday the AU published a separate report by Mahmood Mamdani, a Ugandan academic and member of the AU commission of inquiry, which urged that Kiir and Machar should be left out of a transitional government.

Mamdani’s report said the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States, as well as the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development had established “a politically unchallenged armed power in South Sudan” when they took part in negotiations to bring about the country’s independence from Sudan. He said this “legitimised both anyone holding a gun and the rule of the gun”. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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