Johannesburg: South Sudan's two-and-half year civil conflict has had a devastating impact on mental health in the country which has practically no psychiatric services, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
The conflict between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar killed tens of thousands and displaced more than two million people until a transitional unity government was formed in April. Independent militias still operate in the country.
The conflict was characterised by widespread atrocities including mass killings, rape, torture, abductions and even a case of forced cannibalism, Amnesty said in the report based on interviews with 161 victims, witnesses, mental health professionals, officials and non-governmental organisations.
Phillip, a survivor of a 2013 massacre in which government security forces killed 300 people in the capital Juba, said soldiers forced him to drink the blood and eat the flesh of the dead.
"At night when I sleep, those who were killed come back in my nightmares. I can't eat, I don't want anything I'm offered," he said.
Malith, another survivor of the same massacre, told Amnesty he woke up sweating and trembling. "I think about how I survived. Why did these others die? It makes me feel bad."
Lual told Amnesty he was forced by intelligence officers to disembowel the bodies of fellow detainees so they would not float when dumped into a river. "I think about committing suicide ... I hate myself."
Nyawal, a woman who was gang-raped twice in one day in the town of Bentiu in 2015, said the event changed her life. "I am nothing. I have nothing good ... I am ashamed."
Many of the interviewees showed symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Amnesty said. But South Sudan only has two practising psychiatrists for a population of 11 million people.
Mentally ill people are routinely housed in prisons, according to the report.
"While the death and physical destruction caused by the conflict ... are immediately apparent, the psychological scars are less visible and neglected," said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty's director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes.
Wanyeki called for action "to heal the damage already done, by providing victims with treatment and other appropriate reparations."