South Sudan: Sexual Violence As A Weapon of War - the Horrifying Details

Yasmin Sooka, who chairs the UN Human Rights Council's Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, addresses a UN Security Council session in 2020 on the topic of "Peacebuilding and sustaining peace: Transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict situations."
22 March 2022

The 48-page paper presented by the UN Human Rights Council's commission on South Sudan in Geneva on Monday provided horrifying details of the use of sexual violence against women and girls as a weapon of war in that nation.

The paper is primarily based on interviews with victims and survivors, as well as with witnesses, clinicians, service providers, humanitarian workers and other experts. The interviews were conducted between February 2020 to February 2022. The commission says the study "does not purport to reflect the country-wide scale and prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence... It represents instead a compilation of illustrative incidents of conflict-related sexual violence occurring in South Sudan..."

Excerpts from the "Conference room paper of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan" presented on Monday during the current meetings of the Human Rights Council in Geneva:

"Conflict-related sexual violence against women and girls is widespread and systematic throughout South Sudan. Ongoing conflict across the country, including in the Equatorias, has created a perilous situation of great insecurity for women and girls, exacerbated by a lack of accountability for sexual and gender-based violence.

"Widespread rape and sexual violence in armed conflict, while complex, can be attributed to a patriarchal society, and is reflected in the inferior status of women maintained by the State and its institutions, creating conditions in which these violations thrive.

"Sexual violence in South Sudan has been instrumentalized as a reward and entitlement for youth and men participating in conflict. It serves as a means of building ethnic solidarity to mete out retribution against perceived enemies; the objective being to inflict maximum disruption and the destruction of the fabric of communities, including through their constant displacement...

"The Commission acknowledges the initiatives taken by the Government of South Sudan to address sexual and gender-based violence including through establishing a Special Court and military prosecutions. Nevertheless, these measures remain woefully inadequate, given the scale and extent of conflict-related sexual violence in the country..."

The nature of the conflict

"Conflict in South Sudan is characterized by the fragmentation of warring parties, the proliferation of small arms and military-grade weapons, and political allegiances centred on ethnic, regional and other group identities. In this context, humanitarian aid workers, women's rights defenders, and civil society organizations supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, consistently find themselves targeted by armed actors as well.

"The funding of conflict at a national and sub-national level is linked to political elites and to the shadow parallel economy, from which they benefit.

"The conflict involves the deliberate expulsion of local populations from their territory, often with the intention of changing the ethnic composition and political control of the territory. Strategies have included terrorizing local populations, killing, burning of villages and the looting and control of local resources as well as rape and sexual violence.

"Women and girls in South Sudan face diverse forms of oppression including targeted killings, rape and sexual violence, slavery, forced marriage, forced procreation, forced labour, and other forms of sexual violence and inequality..."

Violence based on entrenched patriarchy

"Patterns of violence are historically based on entrenched patriarchy, centring on male dominance and control of resources, which also encompasses the exploitation of women, where the female body is perceived as 'territory' to be owned and controlled by males. Rape and sexual violence in South Sudan is underpinned by male dominance and privilege that constructs violence against women as permissible, along with other forms of violence. This fuels impunity for rape and sexual violence crimes and is compounded by the weakness or complete absence of state institutions, including judicial authorities, particularly at local levels."

Young women and underage girls are specifically targetted

"Incidents of rape and sexual violence documented by the Commission indicate that adolescent and underage girls, and young women below the age of 30 years old, are specifically targeted by armed men and are disproportionately affected as a group.

"Perpetrators include armed men, uniformed and non-uniformed, who have been identified as part of regular or of non-State armed forces, including from different units of the South Sudan People's Defence Forces (SSPDF) and the South (Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition) SPLM/A-IO. Militias with links to powerful individuals or institutions, as well as groups involved in organized armed violence between communities in the context of cattle-raiding, are also among the perpetrators.

"Incidents of rape and sexual violence often take place in the presence of family members, which is intended to destroy families and communities, as family members are forced to witness their wives, sister or mother raped and gang raped. Parents have been forced to watch as their children or babies are murdered, some have been forced to rape and violate loved ones."

Incidents of mass rape

"Rape perpetrated by groups of armed men against women and girls comprised the majority of conflict-related incidents of sexual  violence documented by the Commission. Incidents involve multiple armed perpetrators raping multiple women, in incidents of mass rape, involving individual women being gang-raped by multiple men.

"Incidents documented by the Commission reveal the complicity of perpetrators in carrying out the crime, through holding down the victim while another man forcibly penetrates her sexually with his penis or other object, awaiting his turn, and also through guarding and threatening witnesses to prevent them intervening or seeking help...

"The Commission documented the experiences of numerous women who had been abducted and detained against their will, for long periods of time and used as sexual slaves by armed groups."

AllAfrica publishes around 400 reports a day from more than 100 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.