South Sudan: ‘Hellish Existence’ for Women and Girls

Widespread sexual violence against women and girls in conflict is being fueled by systemic impunity, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan said on Monday.


© UNICEF/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin | A quarter of reported cases of conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan are against children.


The Commission’s new report, based on interviews conducted with victims and witnesses over several years, describes a “hellish existence for women and girls”, with widespread rape being perpetrated by all armed groups across the country.


According to the UN Commission, sexual violence has been instrumentalized as a reward and entitlement for youth and men participating in conflict.


The goal is to inflict maximum disruption of 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 due to their failure to prevent these acts, or for their failure to punish those involved”, the Commission advanced.


Bodies reduced to ‘spoils of war’

“It is outrageous and completely unacceptable that women’s bodies are systematically used on this scale as the spoils of war,” declared Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the UN Commission.


Calling for urgent and demonstrable action by authorities, Ms. Sooka said: “South Sudanese men must stop regarding the female body as 'territory' to be owned, controlled and exploited.”


Sexual violence survivors have detailed “staggeringly brutal and prolonged gang rapes” perpetrated against them by multiple men, often while their husbands, parents or children have been forced to watch, helpless to intervene.


Women of all ages recounted being raped multiple times while other women were also being raped around them, and a woman raped by six men said she was even forced to tell her assailants that the rape had been “good”, threatening to rape her again if she refused.


The resultant traumas “ensure the complete destruction of the social fabric”, the UN Commission said.


Horrific assaults

“Anyone reading 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 be thinking what they can do to prevent further acts of sexual violence and to provide adequate care for the 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 continue to ‘have fun’ and further raped her with a firewood stick until she bled to death. Teenage girls described being left for dead by their rapists while bleeding heavily.


Medical personnel also report that many survivors have been raped multiple times throughout their lifetime.


Traumatized for life

The report also describes women often bearing children as a result of rape, and notes that in many cases, survivors have contracted sexually transmitted infections including being infected with HIV.


Following rape and pregnancy, women are often abandoned by husbands and families, and left destitute. Some of those raped while pregnant, have suffered miscarriages.


Husbands searching for abducted wives and daughters often spend years not knowing their fate, with some learning they were abducted by men from rival ethnic groups and forced to bear multiple children – one such man was so traumatized, he wanted to take his own life.


The Commission reported that these attacks were not random opportunistic incidents, but usually involved armed soldiers actively hunting down women and girls, with rape carried out during attacks on villages, systematic and widespread.


© UNICEF/Albert Gonzalez Farran | A South-Sudanese woman who was beaten by her husband seeks refuge in her brother’s house.


Accountability versus impunity