By Lara Kajs
Since civil war began in South Sudan, the condition of human rights has quickly deteriorated. With more than two million displaced and tens of thousands killed, UN findings indicate that mass rape is being used as a weapon of war by South Sudanese Government forces.
The report shows that attacks against civilians, killings (including women, children and the disabled being burned alive), forced disappearances, and other grave abuses have become the norm in the region. Any of these crimes could be considered crimes against humanity and war crimes. Now, the UN has issued a report indicating there is evidence that soldiers are being allowed to rape as a form of payment.
The report was conducted by an assessment team during the period of October 2015 to January 2016. The findings show that the majority of rapes were committed by “state actors” and included horrific details of parents being forced to watch as their children were repeatedly raped. The government forces also pillaged property and abducted women and girls as payment.
The accounts of rape are disturbing. One woman was bound to a tree and forced to watch her 15-year-old daughter being raped by ten soldiers. Another woman was raped by five soldiers on the roadside, in front of her children, and then raped again by more men in the bushes. When she returned to her children she discovered they were missing.
The scale of sexual violence is appalling. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein said “This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war, yet it has been more or less off the international radar.”
The crimes committed chiefly by Government SPLA forces and militia, are described as having a calculated and casual attitude. The perpetrators exhibited no regard for victims, no value for their well-being, but rather treated women and girls as commodities.
The U.N. responded to the findings with recommendations for expanding sanctions, including an arms embargo against the country. Human rights groups echoed the recommendations of the U.N. stating that in addition to a comprehensive arms embargo on all forces in South Sudan, they should also consider referring the issue to the International Criminal Court, should other judicial options prove futile.
The gravity of human rights offenses, as well as the condition of suffering by the people of South Sudan has reached epic proportions. The crisis is a result of a breakdown in governing between President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar that escalated into an armed rebellion and civil war. However, a peace agreement between President Kiir and the opposition was supposed to have led to a transitional government and stop hostilities, but that has not proven to be the case. As fighting has shifted to the west, the atrocities committed by government forces and rebel groups have continued; specifically against the civilian populations.
In order for there to be a paradigm shift in the standard use of rape as a weapon, there has to be a commitment to change by the South Sudan leaders, and the perpetrators – even if they are soldiers – have to be held accountable for committing these horrific crimes against humanity.
Featured Image: A displaced woman, Akki Adduok, sits in the spot where her shelter used to be in the protections of civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan. Photograph: Albert Gonzalez Farran/Getty Images.