Reports: South Sudan using rape as 'weapon of war'

South Sudan
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 3/11/16, 02:10 pm

South Sudan’s government forces are responsible for a majority of the brutal killings and attacks on civilians, according to separate reports by the United Nations and Amnesty International.

The UN report, released today, called on government officials to take responsibility for their crimes. South Sudan’s civil war began in 2013 after a failed coup by soldiers loyal to the dismissed vice president, Riek Machar. In an effort to end the conflict, Machar has been reinstated to his position, but the extrajudicial killings continue.

The UN assessment team, deployed to South Sudan between October and January, collected harrowing stories of government forces sexually assaulting women and killing those who tried to resist. It told of parents forced to watch their children raped, and government-affiliated militia getting stolen property and abducted women and girls as payment.

The organization gathered reports of 702 children affected by incidents of sexual violence since the start of the country’s conflict, with some victims of gang rape as young as 9 years old. According to the assessment team, more than 1,300 rape reports came from just one of South Sudan’s regions, Unity State, between April and September last year.

“The quantity of rapes and gang-rapes described in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total,” said Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UN human rights chief. “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.”

In a separate report released yesterday, Amnesty International accused South Sudanese government forces of suffocating more than 60 men and boys in a shipping container and dumping their bodies in an open field in Unity State in October. The victims were mostly cattle herders, traders, and students, according to family members. 

“Dozens of people suffered a slow and agonizing death at the hands of the government forces that should have been protecting them,” said Lama Fakih, senior crisis advisor at Amnesty International, in a written statement. “These unlawful killings must be investigated and all those responsible brought to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.”

The war has displaced more than 2 million South Sudanese and left tens of thousands dead.

“People need to be held accountable, starting with officials of the highest levels of government,” said Thomas Andrews, president of United to End Genocide, a nonprofit that speaks up against mass atrocities worldwide. “There needs to be clear sanctions that are established immediately.”

Al-Hussein recommended a comprehensive arms embargo and the establishment of the hybrid court included in the recent South Sudan peace agreement. But the latest UN report noted previous reports to the Human Rights Council remain valid but largely unimplemented.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

Read more from this writer