Widespread sexual violence against women and girls in conflict is fueled by systemic impunity, the United Nations Human Rights Commission in South Sudan said on Monday.
The Commission’s new report, based on interviews with victims and witnesses over several years, describes a “hellish existence for women and girls”, with widespread rapes perpetrated by all armed groups across the country.
According to the UN Commission, sexual violence has been instrumentalized as a reward and a right for young people and men participating in conflicts.
The aim is to inflict maximum disruption on the fabric of communities, including through their constant displacement, the report continues.
Rape is often used as “part of military tactics for which government and military leaders are responsible, either because of their inability to prevent these acts or because of their inability to punish those involved”, the Commission argued. .
Bodies reduced to “spoils of war”
“It is outrageous and totally unacceptable that women’s bodies are systematically used on this scale as spoils of war,declared Yasmin Sooka, President of the UN Commission.
Calling for urgent and demonstrable action from the authorities, Ms Sooka said: “South Sudanese men must stop viewing the female body as ‘territory’ to be owned, controlled and exploited.
Survivors of sexual violence detailed “incredibly brutal and prolonged gang rapes” perpetrated against them by several men, often while their husbands, parents or children were forced to watch, helpless to intervene.
Women of all ages recounted being repeatedly raped while other women were also raped around them, and one woman raped by six men said she was even forced to tell her attackers that the rape had been “fine”, threatening to rape her again if she refused.
The resulting trauma “ensures the complete destruction of the social fabric”, the UN Commission said.
“Anyone who reads the details of this horrific report can only begin to imagine what life is like for the survivors. These accounts are unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone, inside and outside governments, should think about what they can do to prevent further acts of sexual violence and provide adequate care for survivors,” said Andrew Clapham, member of the Commission.
A woman described her friend being raped by a man in the forest who then said he wanted to keep ‘fun’ and then raped her with a firewood stick until she bled dead. Teenage girls have described being left for dead by their rapists while bleeding profusely.
Medical personnel also report that many survivors have been raped multiple times in their lifetime.
Traumatized for life
The report also describes women who often bear children as a result of rape and notes that in many cases survivors contracted sexually transmitted infections, including HIV infection.
Following rape and pregnancy, women are often abandoned by their husbands and families, and left destitute. Some of those who were raped during pregnancy had miscarriages.
Husbands searching for abducted wives and daughters often spend years unaware of their fate, some learning that they have been abducted by men from rival ethnic groups and forced to bear several children – one of these men was so traumatized that he wanted to kill himself.
The Commission said these attacks were not random opportunistic incidents, but typically involved armed soldiers actively pursuing women and girls, with rapes occurring in attacks on villages, systematic and widespread.
Accountability versus impunity
The Commission said that the failure of political elites to deal with security sector reformand providing for the most basic needs of armed forces on all sides, continues to contribute to a permissive environment in which South Sudanese women are considered commonplace.
With near universal impunity for rape and sexual violence, perpetrators evade accountability.
Call the The Government of South Sudan and its obligation to end impunity for serious crimesthe Commission took note of recent government initiatives to address sexual violence in conflict, including the establishment of a special court and the holding of military justice proceedings.
While welcoming these measures, the Commission also stated that they “remain woefully insufficient given the scale and scope of the crimes”.
Context of gender inequality
“It is outrageous that senior officials implicated in violence against women and girls, including ministers and governors, are not immediately removed from office and held accountable.
To combat this pervasive violence in conflict and other contexts, those in positions of command and other authorities must quickly and publicly adopt a policy of “zero tolerance” towards sexual and gender-based violence. said Commissioner Barney Afako.
To understand the full impact of conflict-related sexual violence, it is also necessary to understand social and cultural context in which sexual violence occursin patriarchal systems based on sexual domination and discrimination.
Half of all South Sudanese women are married before they turn 18, and the country has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
Sexual and gender-based violence is also common outside of conflict, affecting women and girls in all segments of society.
The Commission calls on the authorities of South Sudan to take the necessary measures to put an end to sexual violence against women and girls, by tackling impunity and the drivers of conflict and insecurity.
the The United Nations Human Rights Commission in South Sudan is an independent body mandated by the UN Human Rights Council. It was first created in March 2016.
The Commission is mandated to investigate the human rights situation in South Sudan, and to determine and report the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and abuses, including clarifying accountability violations and abuses that are crimes under national and/or international law.