South Sudan atrocities: rape, mutilation and forced cannibalism

African Union report disputes claim 22-month civil war began after attempted coup

Rebel soldiers last year with Nuer civilians as they walk through flooded areas to reach a makeshift UN camp for the displaced. Photograph: Matthew Abbott/AP

Rebel soldiers last year with Nuer civilians as they walk through flooded areas to reach a makeshift UN camp for the displaced. Photograph: Matthew Abbott/AP


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

The report from the African Union (AU) also 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 resulting violence has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced 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 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.”

The AU investigators, led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, found that 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. Mr Kiir is a Dinka while Mr 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 within 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 within 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.

The latest peace deal, signed in August, has failed to end hostilities, with each side accusing the other of failing to honour their side of the agreement.

Last week, three UN agencies warned that the ongoing fighting in some areas meant that there was a “concrete risk of famine occurring between October and December” unless more assistance was provided and access given to aid agencies. – (Guardian service)