SRSG Patten visits South Sudan, demands immediate halt to sexual violence

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JUBA, South Sudan

According to a recent report released by the UN, sexual violence has been committed on a widespread and systematic scale as a tactic of war and terror in South Sudan.

During the visit by the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, she underscored the need to understand the needs of survivors and vulnerable communities, as well as the nature, patterns and trends of conflict-related sexual violence. She also provided a critical opportunity to reinvigorate commitments made by the Government since 2014 to prevent and prosecute crimes of sexual violence, as well as to ensure the delivery of essential services to survivors.

In a discussion held between the members of civil society organizations, cases of increased intimidation at work including attacks against those providing services to sexual violence survivors, were alarming.

In protected sites for displaced civilians in Malakal and Juba, survivors narrated shocking patterns of conflict-related sexual violence, occurring alongside other atrocity crimes. Men were being systematically killed, the elderly and sick being burned alive, the genitals of young boys being mutilated or cut off, and women and girls being gang-raped – often to death.

“Rape and gang-rape are being used to pursue military and political objectives, such as clearing areas of perceived enemies, defined along ethnic and political lines. In this context, sexual violence serves as a lethal tactic of war and a “push factor” for forced displacement.” pens Amina

In another report released by UNMISS and OHCHR on the indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Southern Unity State, at least 120 women and girls, including pregnant and lactating mothers, and girls as young as four-years-old, were raped and gang-raped by the SPLA and associated forces (including pro-Taban Deng forces and clan youth militia) in Koch and Leer county. Witness accounts indicate that some women and girls who resisted rape were shot. The report further documents 15 incidents of abduction involving at least 132 women and girls, for the purposes of sexual slavery and forced labor.

Women in the camps lack of food, health services, and livelihood opportunities. In order to collect firewood, women and girls need to continuously venture further beyond camp perimeters, at great personal risk. Although they walk in groups to reduce their vulnerability to attack, they are still frequently assaulted by soldiers lurking in the high grass. Yet they have few alternatives, as they cannot ask male community members for help.

“In the words of one woman: “Our men would get killed, whereas we only get raped”. In addition to security and basic livelihood assistance, all of the women I spoke with said that they wanted to see the perpetrators punished. Yet sexual violence is fueled and exacerbated by impunity on a massive scale.” reads part of the report

Ms Amina reminds the Government of South Sudan that it bears the primary responsibility for protecting its people.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has on its part developed an action plan to prevent sexual violence and hold perpetrators in their ranks to account. In addition, the South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) is recruiting more women, which will encourage survivors to report these crimes and seek redress, and is working to ensure the effective functioning of special protection units.

“UNMISS has played a critical role in the protection of civilians, and the UN country team and its partners have continued to deliver lifesaving services to women and girls affected by gender-based violence. Donors and international partners must increase their support, to enable the provision of medical and psychosocial assistance to survivors, including in remote areas, as well as technical expertise and resources for security sector reform, justice and reparations.” she notes