South Sudanese government pledged to share with the UN Commission on Human Rights the findings of its investigation into the recent sexual attacks outside Bentinu of Northern Liech State in South Sudan
On 30 November, the international medical non-governmental organization Médecins Sans Frontihères (MSF) reported that at least 157 women and girls have so far sought treatment for sexual violence suffered at one of its clinics.
The attacks took place between 19 and 29 November 2018 when the women were intercepted by military and civilians in plain clothes while the victims were walking from their villages along roads near Nhialdu and Guit on their way to Bentiu to collect humanitarian aid.
The sexual violence was unanimously condemned by national, regional and international instances as the country and the international community have been involved in the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement ending a 5-year civil war in South Sudan.
The denial of the assaults by the local authorities was seen as a negative signal by those who hope the peace implementation would create suitable conditions for healing and reconciliation.
However, a delegation of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan that arrived in the country shortly after the attacks said they discussed the matter in Juba with the South Sudanese officials who pledged to cooperate with them.
“The Commission heard from Government officials in Juba last week, that the Government had set up a team to investigate what occurred in Bentiu and the Government gave assurances that they would share and corroborate their findings with the Commission,” said a statement issued on 14 December.
The UN Human Rights Council-mandated experts will present the findings of their investigation in its report to the Council in March 2019.
Accountability for conflict-related sexual violence has been a core element of the Commission’s work given how widespread and systematic the use of sexual violence has been by the warring parties in South Sudan.
Over 65 per cent of women and girls in South Sudan reportedly have experienced sexual violence at least once in their lives, according to the Commission.
“The viciousness of these horrific attacks in Bentiu on so many women is shocking, given that these atrocious acts occurred just as people’s hopes for an end to violence are starting to surface following the peace deal. Accountability must now follow,” said Barney Afako, member of the visiting experts.
In his latest report to the UN Security Council, Secretary-General António Guterres said UNMISS investigations into the sexual attacks found that elements from the government and SPLA-IO forces were responsible for the assaults.
” Of the remaining 30 cases, which involved 12 minor girls, 6 were attributed to SSPDF, 8 to the pro-Machar SPLM/A in Opposition and 1 to the South Sudan National Police Service, while the remaining 15 cases have not yet been attributed,” Guerras said in a progress report to the Council on 10 December.
During its meetings with the Government, the Commission also raised the recent case of a young South Sudanese girl whose virginity was auctioned off publicly, including on Facebook, to the highest bidder, and the need to improve the status of women in South Sudan.
“A holistic transitional justice programme will provide South Sudan with a vital opportunity to address the status of women in South Sudan and their prospects for the future”, said Commission Chairperson Yasmin Sooka.
From 4 to 12 December, the three-person Commission visited South Sudan, Sudan and Ethiopia. A member of the human rights body visits Uganda from 15 to 19 December.