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UN report confirms rape cases in South Sudan’s Unity

Residents of Bentiu Protection of Civilians site pictured on 15 February 2016 (UNMISS photo)
February 15, 2019 (JUBA) - Over 134 women have been subjected to sexual violence by the government army and allied forces in the Unity region from September to December 2018, said a joint report released by the UN human rights body (OHCHR) and UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Friday.

The report confirms allegations published in November 2018 but dismissed at the time by the South Sudanese authorities. Furthermore, it points to the lack of accountability as the main cause of these crimes.

The investigation had on sexual violence in the northern South Sudan region had been launched in November 2018 after a report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) a medical humanitarian group about rapes in Rubkona County of Northern Liech State between 19 and 29 November 2018.

At the time, UNMISS and IGAD peace implementation organs condemned the attacks. Also, UNMISS Human Rights Division (HRD) from 4 to 24 December 2018, conducted an investigation into these reports and its findings are contained in the 21-page report seen by Sudan Tribune.

"Between September and December 2018, HRD corroborated 134 cases of rape or gang rape and 41 cases of other forms of sexual and physical violence including one case of unlawful killing, as well as flogging, beatings, sexual molestation and forced nudity," said the report.

The authors underscored that these numbers "are likely under-representative of the full scale of the crisis (full scale of sexual violence)", due to the difficulties encountered in accessing some survivors.

In its report, the MSF said 125 women had been raped between 19 to 29 November while the HRD put it a 134 rape case from September to December 2018.

In their report, OHCHR and UNMISS pointed out that the sexual assaults were committed by SPLA- Taban Deng elements, the government forces, SSPDF.

"A few cases were committed by elements of the pro-Riek Machar SPLA-IO (SPLA-IO (RM)). Youth militias affiliated with SPLA-IO (TD) are believed to have been involved in the perpetration of a significant number of cases as well," further stressed the report.

All the victims were Nuer and were attacked on roads and footpaths near Guit and Nhialdiu as they were travelling to (or returning from) Bentiu, or after leaving the Bentiu Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in search of firewood in the nearby locations.

The report urged a committee appointed by President Salva Kiir on 19 December 2018 to carry out "a prompt, effective and impartial investigation" into these allegations of sexual and to identify the perpetrators of these attacks.

Last December, Northern Liech authorities but also a national committee led by South Sudanese minister of gender, child and social welfare said the allegations included in MSF report were "unfounded and baseless"

However, on 15 December, President Kiir established another national committee with greater investigative powers headed by the minister of gender, child and social welfare. In addition, this one includes officials from the army, interior ministry and the national security service.

However, on 21 December, the security authorities in Bentiu restricted the travel of MSF personnel working in the Bentiu area until the completion of the new national investigation. This restriction was reportedly lifted on 23 January when the investigation committee returned to Juba.

The joint investigation committee emphasized that the lack of accountability was one of the major factors of these crimes.

It indicated that a general of the SPLA-IO Taban Deng had been identified in a previous report as responsible for "gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law" committed in April - May 2018. But this report had not been taken in consideration by the government as he was integrated into the SSDPF and now commands troops accused of committing sexual attacks deployed in Guit and Rubkona counties.