Editor's note: In part 2 of the Enough blog on the release of the African Union Commission of Inquiry Report on South Sudan, opposition abuses covered in the report are described. Click here to read part 1.
Lindsey Hutchison contributed to this blog.
An African Union report on the crisis in South Sudan says rebel soldiers committed gross human rights abuses that include rape and ethnically targeted killings of civilians.
The report released by a Commission of Inquiry this week, interviewed witnesses in the towns of Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, who all testified about the abuse they endured in rebel hands after the capture of these locations at the onset of the war.
In Bor, witnesses corroborated each other on important features of evidence on how they were raped, the Commission said. All testified that they were gang-raped by men in uniform believed to be rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In-Opposition (SPLA-IO).
“The majority of the women stated that the rapists consistently uttered verbal references to be reiterated against Dinka, thus confirming that women were being targeted not only because of their gender but because of their ethnicity.”
In the report, the Commission says it believes that systematic killings were carried out in Bor town, by soldiers who had defected from the national army and an affiliate militia known as the White Army who roamed the town “searching and killing civilians of Dinka ethnicity.” One witness reported that a child was killed by soldiers she believed were Nuer from the SPLA-IO and White Army, and also recounted the killing of six males and females, all of whom were civilians in the Panjak neighborhood. The report cites “other collaborative evidence on the house to house search [that] was provided by witnesses who were raped from their homes or from bodies that were retrieved from the houses after the war.”
In a meeting with members of the Dinka community in the Malakal UNMISS Protection of Civilians (PoC) site, the Commission heard that when the rebels captured Malakal, they killed patients in the hospital, including those with mental illnesses. According to the witnesses, the rebels killed people in the streets, in churches, schools, and mosques as well. They also robbed people of money, mobile phones, and other valuables, and raped women.
“If you don’t want to give, they shoot you, they kill you. At gunpoint they take things. Even some of the ladies they are taken by force.”
A 47-year-old woman who is an IDP at the Malakal PoC site specifically requested to speak to the Commission’s members. She told them how her 13-year-old daughter had been abducted from the Catholic Church where they were hiding as the SPLA-IO captured the town. Her daughter was one of the first to run out when soldiers arrived and began shooting randomly into the church. She was captured by six men in uniform and the woman does not know where her daughter is now. The woman’s father, uncle, and two aunts were also killed. She is certain that the soldiers belonged to the SPLA-IO, and during their random shooting inside the church, they killed Nuer as well. Those who survived escaped to the UNMISS base and returned a week later to collect the bones of the victims as dogs had already eaten the flesh of the dead.
The Commission also heard evidence of hate speech, including incitement to violence in the town of Bentiu. According to a witness, when the government-owned Bentiu FM radio station “fell into the hands of Riek Machar it broadcasted some news items, very inciting… operating in Nuer language which only the Nuer would understand. I would not understand it.” The witness said military men took control of the station, forcing the reporters out. The witness was told that an announcer on the radio station said in the Nuer language that all Nuer men should rape any Dinka women they find in the town.
“All Nuer men, you move around if you find any Dinka woman just rape her, just like that. Incitement moved to violence… as they were doing that,” the witness added.
The Commission’s investigation documented violations committed in a systematic manner and in most cases with extreme brutality, by the government and rebels.
The Commission describes the human toll of the violence and the brutality as “heart-wrenching.”
The report notes sexual and gender-based violence by both parties. It also documents acts such as the mutilation of bodies, forcing one ethnic community to drink the blood of the other, forced cannibalism, and “people [who] were not simply shot, they were subjected… to beatings before being compelled to jump into a lit fire.”
Click here to access the full report.