Cases of sexual violence against women and girls in areas of conflict in South Sudan have doubled, compared to cases recorded in 2021, the United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said in a report.
Despite the 2018 peace deal between the warring factions to pledge a ceasefire and negotiate a power-sharing agreement to end the war, conflicts between government forces, a coalition of army defectors, and ethnic militias have been recurring in South Sudan after the country’s long-fought independence from Sudan.
Since 2013, violence has erupted from the soldiers through the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan.
Civilians have been targeted along ethnic lines by actors in the conflicts who have also committed rape and sexual violence against women and girls.
They destroyed property and looted villages, and recruited children into their ranks.
From Jan. to March 2022, UNMISS said it documented 63 cases of conflict-related sexual violence – up from 28 cases compared to the same time last year.
Overall, 173 incidents impacted a total of 754 civilian victims, reflecting a 32 per cent decrease of incidents and roughly the same number of civilian victims, compared to the same quarter in 2021.
The report found that civil defense groups and militias accounted for the majority of violence against civilians (64 per cent), followed by other parties to the conflict (34 per cent). The majority of violence was associated with inter or intra-communal forms of conflict, particularly in Jonglei, Eastern Equatoria, and Warrap states.
Ongoing conflict across South Sudan has created a perilous situation of great insecurity for women and girls. Marked by sharp economic decline and severe food insecurity, it has exacerbated the vulnerability of women and girls where their inability to meet their basic needs undermine their physical security.
The United Nations Commission described sexual violence in South Sudan a “hellish existence” for women and girls raped by armed groups. They found that sexual assaults were not only perpertrated by conflict actors but armed soldiers also hunting down women and girls.
Most of the perpetrators, usually young men, use sexual violence as some reward or spoils of war.
In the report, a woman mentioned her friend being raped by a man in the forest who said he wanted to continue to ‘have fun’ and further raped her with a firewood stick until she bled to death. In some cases, teenage girls described being left for dead by their rapists while bleeding heavily.
In 2021, the UN dataset documented incidents of sexual violence in South Sudan perpetrated by conflict actors and personnel of state bodies between Jan. 2020 and Aug. 2021. Between that time, over 104 cases of sexual violence was recorded.
Girls and women from the age of 8-38 years suffered from mass rape in seven region in South Sudan.
The central Equatoria recorded more than 64 cases, Eastern Equatoria recorded 18 cases, followed by Lakes with 10 cases, West Equatoria six cases, Warrap with five and the Western Bahr with one case of sexaul violence.
Humanitarian actors are concerned that sexual violence against girls and women is rooted in everyday structural violence, and connected to the local political economy of the country which treats women and girls as property.
The UN Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR) found in its Feb. 2019 report that sexual violence and abduction are “encouraged by commanders through their promises that the soldiers could take women and girls as ‘wives’ in compensation for their services.”
The report highlighted how the failure of authorities to deal with security sector reform, and to provide for the very basic needs of armed forces on all sides, continues to contribute to a permissive environment in which “South Sudanese women are regarded as currency.”
Limited humanitarian response
Despite the decline in waves of brutal violence, the humanitarian situation remains dire. Aid workers, mostly South Sudanese, have been killed on duty since war broke out in 2013.
In 2022, prevalence of attacks on aid workers has forced humanitarian organisations to suspend their operations in some regions in South Sudan.
In March, HumAngle reported humanitarian organisations such as Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), suspending activities due to a surge of attacks against aid workers and aid operations across South Sudan.
“They impede humanitarian work and threaten the lives of thousands of South Sudanese who rely on humanitarian assistance. It is estimated that at least 8.9 million people need humanitarian support this year,” Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday, Mar 4, 2022.
Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General said, despite the surge in violence in South Sudan, the UN would step up its efforts on tackling conflict-related sexual violence.
“Sexual violence continues to be one of the most traumatic features of the conflict in South Sudan,”Haysom said.
He added that the UN maintained six temporary operating bases in conflict hotspots, and conducted 1,002 short distance patrols, 75 long distance patrols and 93 air patrols.
The UN urged the Government of South Sudan to investigate human rights violations and abuses and hold all perpetrators to account.
The UN further called for swift and full implementation of the Sunday, April 3 agreement on a unified command and control structure, and deployment of the necessary unified forces, to enable South Sudan’s security sector to carry out the government’s primary responsibility to protect civilians.
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