Local church officials in South Sudan have confirmed a recently released United Nations report describing the horrors of the country's civil war, including mass rapes, children and the disabled being burned alive, hanged, or cut to pieces.
"The U.N. report is definitely reliable," the church sources, who weren't named, told Fides News Agency.
"We saw members of the inquiry committee do a thorough job on the ground until the end of January, meeting and interviewing local witnesses. The systematic use of mass rape to humiliate the opponent is terribly real and widespread," they added.
The U.N. said that its report contains "harrowing accounts of pro-opposition civilians killed by being burned alive, suffocated in containers, shot, hanged from trees or cut to pieces," with Fides noting that children and disabled people are among such victims as well.
The country's civil war erupted in December 2013 following a conflict between President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and his rival and former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer.
The U.N. accused state forces of being responsible for most of the violence in 2015, given that the opposition is weakening.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called the rape statistics particularly "shocking," noting over 1,300 reports of rape in the state of Unity alone.
"The scale and types of sexual violence – primarily by Government SPLA forces and affiliated militia – are described in searing, devastating detail, as is the almost casual, yet calculated, attitude of those slaughtering civilians and destroying property and livelihoods," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović warned that a major problem in South Sudan is that "rape is accepted."
"Rape is happening in the presence of family members and women are forced to march the street naked," he added.
The report adds that civil society activists, human rights defenders, humanitarian actors, journalists, print media, and U.N. staff members have all faced threats, arrests, and in some cases have even been killed by government forces.
The violent conflict produced even more shocking news stories of people being forced to eat human flesh and drink blood, the African Union revealed back in October 2015.
Witnesses to war crimes being committed in Juba, Bor, Bentiu and Malakal said that they watched perpetrators "draining human blood from people who had just been killed and forcing others from one ethnic community to drink the blood or eat burned human flesh."
The horrors of the South Sudan conflict have been highlighted by some evangelical leaders in the U.S., such as the Rev. Franklin Graham, who wrote in July:
"These people are suffering beyond belief, and on top of that they are being bombed by their own government."
Graham, who leads humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse, added: "The continued fighting in Nuba and Blue Nile is destabilizing all of northeast Africa and devastating South Sudan — the whole region is on fire with bloodshed."
OHCHR said in its recommendations that the Transitional Government of National Unity, formed last year to put an end to the civil war, needs to stop the ongoing current violations and abuses of the rights of children.
David Marshall, coordinator of the U.N. human rights assessment mission to South Sudan, also insisted that military leaders who have carried out war crimes in the civil war should not be allowed to take part in the transitional government.