Excerpts from the report of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 18:
The conflict in South Sudan has been characterized by sexual and gender-based violence. Parties to the ongoing conflict continue to use sexual violence as a weapon of terror and political repression and as a tactic to advance their strategic objectives, including to displace the civilian population in order to control contested territory.
The Commission has continued to document incidents of sexual and gender-based violence, including the rape of women and girls by armed men. The Commission has also documented incidents of sexual violence by armed forces in Western Equatoria perpetrated along ethnic lines, including by members of forces that have enjoyed impunity for widespread conflict-related sexual violence, including sexual slavery, perpetrated in 2018 and 2019. In Central Equatoria, the Commission has documented the persistence of sexual violence during military operations, particularly where civilians live close to military units and armed groups. Much of the violence in the Equatorias and Upper Nile is attributed to fracturing alliances, while intercommunal clashes have intensified in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, and in Warrap and Lakes, leading to increased abductions for forced marriage and sexual slavery.
Rape and sexual violence are part of the multiplicity of the violations experienced by South Sudanese girls and women. Others include killings, torture and brutal beatings. Their property, including livestock, is stolen, looted or burned. The intersectionality of these experiences, including marginalization, and trauma from witnessing brutal violations, has left many survivors and victims with physical injuries and psychological scars.
Rape and sexual violence also have an impact on families and communities, as both men and women have been forced to witness wives, sisters and mothers raped and gang raped, have seen their young children or babies murdered as a form of punishment or have been forced to rape and violate loved ones.
Civilians who fled Tambura have violent scenes and images imprinted on their minds; they have spoken of hiding in the forest from attackers and of seeing multiple corpses, some mutilated and clearly subjected to sexual violence.1 Attention must be paid to providing psychosocial support and counselling to those affected. Numerous survivors have described to the Commission the long-term consequences of rape and genital harm on their sexual and reproductive functions.
In Yei County in late 2020, a military court, in a rare development, convicted soldiers of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces of crimes, including rape and sexual violence, against civilian women. However, victims have reportedly still not received the compensation ordered by the court. While the military courts alone are not appropriate or sufficient to achieve justice for victims, civil society groups and officials welcomed the process as an important step taken by the Government to deal with impunity for crimes of sexual violence, with potential scope for replication in other States. Nevertheless, victims of rape and sexual violence in South Sudan continue to face reprisals for reporting sexual and gender-based crimes.
In January 2021, the Joint Defence Board of South Sudan adopted an action plan for the armed forces on addressing conflict-related sexual violence, which consolidates and reinforces the commitments made by the parties to the Revitalized Agreement and lists indicators against which progress can be measured.
Like the action plan, the country’s gender-based violence and juvenile court, launched by the Ministry of Justice at the end of 2020, as well as the mobile and other courts outside the capital that hear sexual violence cases, should be monitored to assess whether these initiatives deliver justice and whether political will for accountability exists.
South Sudanese society remains deeply patriarchal. In August 2021, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Peter Mayen Majondit, beat and stabbed his wife, Aluel Garang, a prominent women’s soccer player. Months earlier, he publicly disrupted a football match by storming onto the pitch and dragging his wife away, with gunshots fired among his entourage. The Minister has not been held accountable either criminally or politically for acts of gender-based violence against his wife. Furthermore, neither President Kiir nor members of the Cabinet, including the Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, have spoken out.