The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in South Sudan has ended its first fact-finding mission on widespread and systematic sexual violence across the country.

The three-person team investigating rights violations in the country, which has been mired in bloody civil conflict since 2013, arrived shortly after more than 150 women and girls were reportedly sexually assaulted in the northern town of Bentiu.

The sexual violence occurred just a few months after the top two politicians in the world’s youngest country, signed a renewed commitment to peace, which Commissioner from Uganda, Mr Barney Afako, described as “shocking”, adding, “accountability must now follow.”

“The viciousness of these horrific attacks in Bentiu on so many women, is shocking, given that these atrocious acts occurred just as people’s hopes for an end to violence are starting to surface following the peace deal,” he said.

The Commission is investigating these violations and will report its findings to the Human Rights Council in March 2019.

South Sudanese Government officials also said they were investigating the Bentiu attacks, saying they would share and corroborate their findings with the Commission.

More than 65 per cent of women and girls in South Sudan have reportedly experienced sexual violence at least once in their lives.

Given the endemic impunity to the widespread and systematic use of sexual violence by the country’s warring parties, the Commission said accountability had been a core element of its work.

The commissioners expressed their hopes that South Sudan’s leaders could now seize the opportunity provided by the Revitalised Peace Agreement for Resolution of the Conflict, signed on Sep. 12, to stem the violence, ensure accountability, restore peace and assist the countless victims to rebuild their lives.

From Dec. 15 to 19, Afako would travel to refugee camps in Uganda where some 785,000 South Sudanese are settled.

Among other things, the visit aims to look first-hand at how the June Peace Agreement, brokered by the regional development body, IGAD, with the support of the UN and African Union (AU), was taking hold, particularly focussing on the conflict’s countless victims.

Supported by a team of investigators and researchers based in Juba, they are also gauging how the more than four million South Sudanese displaced by the brutal war can be returned and recompensed.

In line with their mandate, the Commission is also collecting and preserving evidence to combat impunity, and, as such, is assisting with a future Hybrid Court, as laid out in Chapter Five of the Peace Agreement.

“Many of those we spoke with stressed that establishing the Hybrid Court, together with the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, and the C­ompensation and Reparation Authority, could help contribute to stabilizing the country.

“This would certainly send a strong signal to those who have suffered violations in connection with the conflict,” said Mr Andrew Clapham, Commissioner from the UK.

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