African Union Accuses Warring South Sudanese Parties of Torture and Forced Cannibalism

Government and rebel forces in South Sudan have been accused of submitting civilians to rape, torture and forced cannibalism in a report by the African Union (AU).

The report, published on Tuesday by the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS), disclosed shocking human rights violations by both sides over almost two years of conflict in the world's youngest country.

In the report, the Commission—led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo—claimed to have identified a list of likely perpetrators of extreme violence and called for the establishment of an African-led court to bring those responsible to justice, as well as a reconciliation body to help the country move forward. Despite finding mass graves, the Commission said that no evidence of genocide had been discovered.

The war erupted in December 2013 following a power struggle by President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar, who belong respectively to the opposing Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups. More than 600,000 refugees have fled South Sudan since fighting broke out, according to the UNHCR. There are also some 1.6 million internally displaced persons in the country, which separated from Sudan in July 2011 following a landslide vote in favour of independence. Multiple ceasefires and peace agreements have been signed and failed, with the latest agreed in August.

AUCISS investigated alleged human rights violations in a number of cities across South Sudan where fighting has been intense, including the capital Juba. Forensic examinations of the sites were conducted and interviews with witnesses and survivors were carried out.

"Based on its inquiry, the Commission finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe that acts of murder, rape and sexual violence, torture and other inhumane acts of comparable gravity, outrages upon personal dignity, targeting of civilian objects and protected property, as well as other abuses, have been committed by both sides to the conflict," the report said.

Interviewees in Juba told investigators that they had witnessed members of one ethnic community being forced "to drink the blood or eat burnt human flesh" of others who had been killed, though the Commission did not specify which side was responsible. The Commission reported that, between February 18-27 2014, women were held and raped at a Catholic church in Malakal, a city in northeastern South Sudan near the border with Sudan. Again, the Commission did not specify which side was responsible for these particular crimes, adding that most of these atrocities were committed against civilians and non-combatants.

The allegations of extreme violence and human rights abuses, the Commission said, stood against both forces allied to Kiir and members of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), headed up by Machar.

Other reports have also detailed atrocities in the country. In June, the U.N. accused the South Sudanese army—known as the Sudan People's Liberation Army—of raping and burning girls alive in their own homes. At the time, the military spokesman for the South Sudanese army told Al Jazeera that the accusations made in the report required further verification.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification—a body whose members include the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization—warned last week that 30,000 South Sudanese are going hungry and that the country faces a "concrete risk" of famine by the end of 2015.