Senior United Nations officials, including Secretary-General António Guterres have condemned a series of brutal sexual assaults on women and girls, travelling on the road to Bentiu, a town in the north of South Sudan.
According to the UN mission there, over the last ten days around125 women and girls have sought treatment after having been sexually assaulted, as they walked along roads near Nhialdu and Guit on their way to the town near the Sudanese border. They were also robbed and beaten.
The attacks were reportedly carried out by young men, some of whom wore civilian clothes while others were dressed in military uniforms.
In a statement, Secretary-General António Guterres underscored that the horrific acts are a “distressing reminder” of how, despite recent recommitments by the country’s leaders to stop fighting as well as a revitalized peace agreement, the security situation for civilians remains dire, especially for women and children.
“Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been a consistent feature of the conflict in South Sudan, used both as a tactic of war and a driver of forced displacement,” said Mr. Guterres in the statement issued by his office.
“Such predatory behavior against the most vulnerable is unacceptable.”
The UN chief also called on leaders of all parties to the conflict as well as the future leaders in the transitional government of national unity to ensure the safety of civilians and hold the perpetrators accountable.
Attacks must stop
In a separate statement, David Shearer, the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), termed the attacks “absolutely abhorrent” and demanded that they must stop.
“The violent assaults happened in a Government-controlled area and it has primary responsibility for the safety of civilians,” he said.
UNMISS has held urgent meetings with authorities and urged them to take immediate action to protect women and girls in the area and to hold the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to account, added Mr. Shearer.
The head of UNMISS, who is also the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country, also called on armed groups in the area to “guarantee command and control” over their fighters to ensure rogue elements within their ranks are not involved in criminal acts.
The UN mission has deployed patrols to the region to provide extra protection, as well as its human rights team to investigate and identify the perpetrators. Engineers from the mission are also clearing foliage from the sides of the road so attackers find it harder to hide while lying in wait.
Now in its seventh year of existence, South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has remained mired in instability and conflict, which has displaced millions from their homes.
Earlier this year, President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar signed a new peace deal, and hopes are high that this will finally end the years of brutal conflict which have left millions homeless and hungry. Results of the agreement are still to be seen on the ground and many have cited a lack of trust between the parties as a key obstacle to peace.