Aislinn Laing, Telegraph, October 28, 2015
Civilians caught up in South Sudan’s civil war were forced to drink the blood or eat the flesh of people from other ethnic groups by armed groups backing the president and his former rival, an African Union report has found.
The report’s release was delayed from last year amid fears it might harm the fragile and protracted peace process.
Published on Wednesday, it recorded “widespread and systematic atrocities” suffered by people because of their ethnicity and carried out across the world’s newest country, which was formed after breaking away from Sudan in 2011.
Among the crimes committed, it said, were “murder, rape and sexual violence, torture and other inhumane acts of comparable gravity”, but added that it found no evidence of genocide, where there must be clear intent to decimate or wipe out entire ethnic groups.
It detailed accounts of injured civilians attacked in a hospital, entire towns “pillaged and destroyed”, children under the age of 15 being forcibly conscripted and women being raped in or abducted from churches where they had sought sanctuary.
It also referred to “extreme cruelty exercised through 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 commission found that most of the atrocities were carried out against civilian populations taking no active part in the hostilities,” it said.
The report’s authors rejected the South Sudanese government’s claim that hostilities broke out in December 2013 after President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, uncovered a coup plotted by Riek Machar, his vice-president and an ethnic Nuer, saying the scale and rapid spread of the conflict was unlikely to have happened without prior planning.
It found that both sides were responsible for war crimes and called for the formation of a special “Africa-led” court to try those responsible for the worst excesses, whose names it has handed to the African Union’s Peace and Security Council in a “highly confidential list”.
A leaked copy of an earlier draft of the report had suggested that Mr Machar and Mr Kiir should be blocked from holding public office for their roles in the violence was dropped from the final report.
Instead, the suggestion was contained in a “Separate Opinion” annexe written by Mahmood Mamdani, a Ugandan academic and member of the five-person commission of enquiry, which was led by Olusegun Obasanjo, a former Nigerian president and veteran regional mediator who also led the AU observer team for Zimbabwe’s most recent election.
It is the latest in a series of studies by the international bodies and non-governmental organisations that have detailed abuses in one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, which has seen 2.2m people driven from their homes and tens of thousands killed.
After considerable international pressure and a series of failed peace deals, the latest ceasefire agreement was signed by Mr Kiir and Mr Machar in August but fighting has continued.
Ahmed Soliman, Horn of Africa research associate for the London-based Chatham House think tank, said the AU report, coming from their African peers, might put additional pressure to bear on the warring sides to reach a genuine ceasefire.
It could also strengthen the case for targeted international sanctions on key aggressors recently blocked by Russian and Angola at the UN security council, he added.