While stories of human rights violations in the Middle East and North Korea are highlighted in the mainstream media every now and then — and they should be — reports of equally abhorrent abuses elsewhere, unfortunately, get eclipsed.
The civil war in South Sudan is a case in point.
A damning new report by the African Union says all parties involved in the ongoing conflict have committed mass atrocities against civilians such as forced cannibalism and gang rapes. In addition, mass graves have also been discovered.
“The stories and reports of the human toll of the violence and brutality have been heart-wrenching,” the commission report stated. “All these accounts evoke the memories of some of the worst episodes of earlier human rights violations on the continent, including in South Sudan itself.”
Government forces allegedly tortured their victims, mostly men belonging to the Nuer faction, and sometimes forced them to drink blood of other victims or eat human flesh.
A witness “saw SPLA (South Sudan army) soldiers burning dead bodies and compelling Nuer women to eat burnt flesh of burnt victims," according to the commission’s investigation.
While men have been shot to death, women in South Sudan have suffered “unprecedented levels” of sexual violence in the course of the conflict, according to a separate report released by the country’s Red Cross chapter earlier in October.
"We went to one village to distribute aid and (our teams) were told they had been attacked some days earlier and 90 women had been abducted. After several days only about 60 of them came back," Franz Rauchenstein, the outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation, told Reuters.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 after a 2005 peace deal ended a 21-year-old civil war in Africa.
However, the non-violent stage didn’t last long in the new country as yet another conflict broke out in December 2013 between two ethnic groups comprising the ruling party: the Dinka associated with President Salva Kiir and the Nuer loyal to Vice President Riek Machar.
The power struggle in the following years resulted in bloodshed of tens of thousands of people and displaced over 2 million others.
Although the United Nations deployed over 12,000 troops, police and civilian personnel in South Sudan, President Kiir and his forces have consistently tried to hinder rescue efforts.
“I see a country — and I can be very candid, that country is South Sudan — a country where we felt that we needed to do a better job to protect civilians," complained Herve Ladsous, head of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations in June. "We needed attack helicopters — request denied. We needed UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones] — request denied by the president to me, personally, three times last year.”
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Despite so many deaths and displacement of innocent people in the world’s second-largest continent, the South Sudan's civil war has largely escaped international attention, primarily because other major events like the Syrian civil war, National Security Agency leaks by Edward Snowden and, most recently, Europe’s Syrian refugee crisis have continued to dominate headlines.
Even as the world panicked about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa last year, the plight of South Sudanese people failed to prompt the concern it deserves.
However, the shocking findings in the latest African Union report might — or should — put the spotlight on the embattled region.
Too many people have died who could have been saved. It’s about time the 2 million people in the already-impoverished nation get the attention and humanitarian support the world owes them.