South Sudan: UN says over 150 women, girls raped in 12 days

More than 150 women and girls have come forward in the past 12 days to seek help in South Sudan after they were raped orsuffered other forms of sexual violence, the heads of three UN agencies said on Monday.

Armed men, many in uniform, carried out the attacks near the northern city ofBentiu, according to a joint statement from Henrietta Fore, who heads the UNchildren’s agency UNICEF, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock and thedirector of the UN Population Fund, Natalia Kanem.

The three agencies condemned “these abhorrent attacks” and called on South Sudan authorities to ensure the perpetrators face justice.

Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, last week said 125women and girls had been raped while walking to emergency food distributioncentres set up by international aid agencies.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks.

“These horrific acts are a distressing reminder of how, despite recentrecommitments by South Sudan’s leaders to a cessation of hostilities and arevitalised peace agreement, the security situation for civilians remains dire,especially for women and children,” he said in a statement.

He urged all parties to the conflict and future leaders in South Sudan “toensure the safety of civilians and address impunity for these crimes throughinvestigation and prosecution of perpetrators.”

At war since 2013, South Sudan has seen horrific levels of sexual violence.

In the first half of 2018, some 2,300 cases were reported, the vast majority ofthose targeting women and girls. More than 20 percent of the victims werechildren, the UN statement said.

The three agencies said the actual number of rapes was far higher because theviolence is severely under-reported.

As well as being raped, MSF said many of the victims were “whipped, beatenor clubbed with sticks and rifle butts” and robbed of their clothes,shoes, money and the ration cards entitling them to food aid.

“In more than three years of working in South Sudan, I have never seensuch a dramatic increase in survivors of sexual violence arriving at ourprogrammes looking for medical care,” said Ruth Okello, a MSF midwife inSouth Sudan.

A UN panel of experts last month said in a report to the Security Council thatthere were “alarming levels” of sexual violence and human rightsabuses in South Sudan.

The council is due to discuss the crisis in South Sudan on December 18.

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