The African Union said the use of child soldiers had been "pervasive" in the South Sudan conflict.

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The African Union has released a report on human rights violations in South Sudan

It found evidence of brutal violence including forced cannibalism and gang rapes

CNN —  

Forced cannibalism, gang rapes and death by burning are among the atrocities marking the brutal civil war taking place in South Sudan, according to an African Union (AU) report.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war, making it the world’s youngest nation. But it has been embroiled in conflict since December 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his fired deputy, Riek Machar, of trying to oust him through a coup.

Since then, militias loyal to both men have battled against each other. The nation divided along tribal lines – the Nuer community backs rebel leader Machar, while the President is from the Dinka tribe.

The United Nations estimates more than 2.2 million people have been displaced and South Sudan has faced food shortages and disease in conjunction with the violence.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council mandated a commission of inquiry in December 2013 to investigate human rights abuses and other abuses in the conflict.

The commission began work in March 2014, talking to witnesses and officials and visiting scenes of alleged crimes. Its report was released Tuesday.

‘I have seen people being forced to eat other humans’

“The stories and reports of the human toll of the violence and brutality have been heart-wrenching: reports of people being burnt in places of worship and hospitals, mass burials, women of all ages raped; both elderly and young, women described how they were brutally gang raped, and left unconscious and bleeding, people were not simply shot, they were subjected, for instance, to beatings before being compelled to jump into a lit fire,” the report said.

“The Commission found cases of sexual and gender based violence committed by both parties against women. It also documented 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,” it said.

Commissioner Mahmood Mamdani, in an opinion accompanying the main report, quoted an internally displaced survivor at a camp in Juba – one of the main conflict areas – as telling the inquiry:

“I have seen people being forced to eat other humans. Soldiers kill one of you and ask the other to eat the dead one. Women are raped, people burnt. I was a student in Nairobi, Kenya – I am not a military.”

Seeking justice

Most of the atrocities were carried out against civilians with no active role in the conflict, the commission found – by both sides. It said the use of child soldiers was “pervasive” and had been witnessed by commissioners during their inquiry.

South Sudan’s war has continued despite several ceasefire attempts but in their report the AU commissioners looked towards future justice.

They said they had identified a list of alleged perpetrators of the atrocities and recommended that an African Union-backed legal mechanism be established to bring those with the greatest responsibility to account.

In their report, they called for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations back to an agreed cut-off date.

“Such a body should lead to truth, forgiveness and restitution where necessary, justice and lasting reconciliation being achieved,” the report said.

South Sudan: A timeline