The African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan has released its final report concluding that “widespread and systematic” killings took place in Juba in December 2013, with violence later spreading elsewhere. The AU investigation found that the killings in Juba were carried out pursuant to a state policy and were coordinated and possibly also planned.
AU investigators found no evidence of a coup attempt as claimed by President Salva Kiir but instead concluded that a gunfight within the Presidential Guards was the immediate trigger for further violence in which “Dinka members of the Presidential guard and other security forces targeted Nuer soldiers and civilians… killing Nuer soldiers and civilians in and near their homes.”
A number of Kiir’s personal associates and presidential guard commanders are named in the report as operational sector commanders who led the operations that the AU Commission said resulted in mass killings in residential areas mid-December 2013 including Munuki 107, Khor William, New Site, Gudele One, Mangaten, Mia Saba, Custom and Nyakuron. Tens of thousands of members of the Nuer ethnic group fled to the UN Tongping base in the wake of these killings and still remain under UN protection today.
The AU report details numerous accounts of murders, rapes, torture and other atrocities including alleged cases of forced cannibalism perpetrated by members of the army and security forces. Articles 810, 811, 812, 813 and 814 of the report make the case that such acts were carried out with a degree of organization and planning.
In Article 810 the report notes that attacks against civilians in Juba “could have been planned,” according to some of the Commission’s informants. “Suggestions of evidence of planning are varied and the Commission has considered all the suggestions carefully weighing it with the totality of the information it has, and testimony it heard,” the report notes.
Indications of planning and coordination include testimonies that irregular forces disguised as “street cleaners” allegedly scouted areas of Juba in the weeks before the massacres, as well as division of Juba into “four operational zones” and the setting up of roadblocks and checkpoints around the city.
“House to house searches were undertaken by security forces. During this operation male Nuers were targeted, identified, killed on the spot or gathered in one place and killed,” states the Commission report.
The AU report identifies the four operational sector commanders as General Salva Mathok for Amarat neighborhood, General Bol Akot for Gudele and Mia Saba neighborhoods, General Garang Mabir for Mangaten and General Marial Chanuong for Khor William. Salva Mathok is a relative of Salva Kiir and Marial Chanuong is the head of Kiir’s presidential guards. Bol Akot has been identified in previous reports as a “civilian” who led militia at the time of the massacres and whom Kiir later gave a senior rank in the army.
‘The violence was organized’
The AU report goes on to quote the Minister of Defense Kuol Manyang as saying that a militia loyal to Salva Kiir known as Rescue the President (Dut Ku Beny in Dinka) “killed most people here [in Juba] — from 15th to 18th.” This refers to a force that other witnesses describe as Kiir’s “personal army”, which he allegedly recruited and based at his private farm at Luri near Juba.
Radio Tamazuj earlier this year interviewed ex-combatants of this militia recruited in Kiir’s home region Bahr al Ghazal who confirmed that they participated in operations in Juba and also reported disciplinary and morale problems owing to poor training and consumption of alcohol.
“They were not part of the SPLA, they were not part of the police, they were not part of the National Security. It was a private army which Salva trained… The fighting in Giada was just to provoke. It was just only to be a signal for these guys to start their work,” says one witness quoted in the AU report. “So immediately when this fighting started in the others, these guys were now deployed and they did the killing… So it was a deliberate, it was something planned.”
Other testimonies in the report, however, point more to the role of organized forces in the killings rather than the so-called private army.
Article 812 of the Commission of Inquiry report concludes, “The evidence thus suggests that these crimes were committed pursuant to or in furtherance of a State policy. Indeed, the method under which these crimes were committed prove the ‘widespread or systematic nature’ of the attacks. The evidence also shows that it was an organized military operation that could not have been successful without concerted efforts from various actors in the military and government circles.”
Professor Mahmood Mamdani, a Member of the AU Commission who authored a separate opinion on the Inquiry report stated, “The targeted violence was organized, not spontaneous. It was directed from a center.”
Massacres at presidential palace and police station
According to the African Union report, there were at least two large massacres perpetrated in Juba, including one at the so-called ‘J2 palace’ and another at the Gudele Joint Operation Centre, a police station.
“The Commission was informed about an incident that took place at J2 palace (which is adjacent to the Presidential palace) on 16th December 2013 where about 90 Nuers and 21 soldiers were gathered by soldiers and executed with only 13 soldiers escaping with their lives. It was alleged that the 90 Nuers were civilians who were running away from the fighting that had erupted all over Juba.”
“The 21 soldiers, the Commission heard, were Nuers who were part of the President’s first ring of protection and had earlier on been disarmed by a senior military officer. It was alleged that the person who ordered the killing of the civilians and the disarmed soldiers was Lt. Colonel Lual Maroldit who was attached to the VIP close protection unit otherwise known as Tiger Battalion or Presidential Guard,” adds the report.
Forensic evidence and witness testimony further pointed to “the targeted killing of about 134 Nuer men in Gudele joint operation centre” on 16 December. This massacre has previously been reported by the United Nations and other rights investigators.
War crimes in Bor and Malakal
The AU Commission of Inquiry says that war crimes and atrocities were also committed by rebel forces later in the war: “The Commission believes that war crimes were committed in Bor town through indiscriminate killings of civilians by the SPLA/IO and White Army forces allied to Dr. Riek Machar.”
Atrocities were also reported to have been committed by Machar’s forces or allied forces also in Malakal and outside Malakal in Baliet County where the AU Commission reported “much carnage.” For example, the Commission cited a witness who said that SPLA-IO killed 10 hospital patients in Malakal in January. Female civilians who were sheltering in the hospital at the same time were also abducted by the rebels and have not been seen again.
“Gang rape was (and continues to be) a common feature of the atrocities committed during the on-going conflict in South Sudan. Women and men as witnesses and survivors have given statements with reference to rapes of women and girls by more than one person… There were reports by respondents on the wide use of objects such as stones, guns and sticks to rape women. In most instances, that was reported as a new and horrifying phenomenon.”
“There are clear patterns of a vicious cycle of violence within violence developing,” reads the AU report.
The African Union report was produced after research by investigators in 2014 but its release was repeatedly delayed by the AU Commission and AU Peace and Security Council for almost a year.