UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence and Conflict, Ms Pramila Patten, has recounted what she termed “horrific testimonies” by rape survivors in war-torn South Sudan.
Patten told reporters at the UN headquarters that after visiting the war-torn country and hearing the “horrific” testimonies, widespread and systematic sexual violence had been a pervasive tactic of war and terror, since the start of the conflict in South Sudan.
“The testimonies I heard were horrific: men 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.
“In this context, sexual violence serves as a lethal tactic of war and a ‘push factor’ for forced displacement,’’ the UN envoy said.
Patten said she had been “alarmed to hear about the increasing climate of intimidation’’ in which civil society organisations work, “including attacks against those providing services to sexual violence survivors.’’
The world’s youngest country, South Sudan has been wracked by violence and humanitarian crisis since late 2013, following a descent into faction fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and then Vice-President Riek Machar.
As part of a joint UN-African Union visit, led by Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, from July 3 to July 7, Patten said she met government officials and religious leaders, among others.
The UN envoy also toured sites protecting displaced civilians in Malakal and around the capital Juba and spoke with survivors of sexual violence, who continued to live in acutely vulnerable situations.
Patten said women in the protection camps lamented lack of food, health services and opportunities to make a living for themselves and their families.
She added that the main hope and desire of these women was “the desire for peace”.
According to her, while the women walked in groups collecting firewood to reduce attack risks, they needed to venture beyond camp and were still frequently assaulted by soldiers lurking in the high grass.
“Yet, they have few alternatives, as they cannot ask male community members for help,’’ she explained, quoting one woman as saying: “Our men would get killed, whereas we only get raped.’’
Patten said all of the women she spoke with said that they wanted to see the perpetrators punished, adding: “yet sexual violence is fuelled and exacerbated by impunity on a massive scale’’.
Government officials affirmed their willingness to implement an agreed Joint UN Communiqué to end Sexual Violence and Cessation of Hostilities.
She said that to measure progress, an action plan had been drawn up to hold perpetrators of sexual violence within the army to account.
Patten said that a “permanent ceasefire” must be respected by all sides and should also include the cessation of all forms of sexual violence.
She said it was “critical” that the authorities investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed, as well as other alleged atrocity crimes.
She commended the UN and AU efforts towards facilitating a lasting peace, recognising the “extremely challenging” environment and called for increased donor support.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Mission in South Sudan, released a report on Tuesday revealing indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Southern Unity State in which at least 120 women and girls, as young as four-years-old, were raped and gang-raped by the army and associated forces in Koch and Leer county.
Witnesses indicate that those, who resisted rape were shot, while the report further documented 15 incidents of abduction involving at least 132 women and girls for the purposes of sexual slavery and forced labour.