Land­mark case against S. Su­dan for sex­ual vi­o­lence against women, girls

Ju­di­cial sys­tem is al­most nonex­is­tent and the Ex­ec­u­tive and mil­i­tary have un­due in­flu­ence on the courts

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - WORLD -

When South Su­dan be­came in­de­pen­dent in 2011, many hoped it would be a new dawn, char­ac­terised by peace and sta­bil­ity af­ter years of war.

Sadly, it was not to be. Armed con­flict erupted in De­cem­ber 2013.

Forces aligned to Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir and for­mer vice pres­i­dent Riek Machar took up arms against one an­other.

Tens of thou­sands of women and girls have been sub­jected to sex­ual vi­o­lence by govern­ment forces.

Un­for­tu­nately, al­most no one has been held to ac­count.

Last week, Le­gal Ac­tion World­wide filed a case against the govern­ment at the Geneva-based Com­mit­tee on the Elim­i­na­tion of Dis­crim­i­na­tion Against Women (CEDAW), on be­half of 30 women and girls.

The com­plaint outlines bru­tal­ity, in­clud­ing sex­ual slav­ery and tor­ture and rape by army of­fi­cers and the pres­i­den­tial guard dur­ing raids and while vic­tims fled be­tween June 2016 to Septem­ber 2017.

Sophia — not her real name — told of how she was raped by two sol­diers, in the pres­ence of her chil­dren, un­til she slipped out of con­scious­ness.

“When I re­gained con­scious­ness … my ab­domen was painful. The sol­diers had left. My chil­dren said the sol­diers threat­ened to kill them if they cried,” she said.

Like many sur­vivors, Sophia fled. As she walked in the bush with other civil­ians flee­ing the con­flict a week later, a dif­fer­ent group of armed men at­tacked the group and raped the women as chil­dren watched.

Sophia was again raped by two men.

“I al­most lose my mind when I I think of what hap­pened,” she said.

Sophia's ex­pe­ri­ence is just one of thou­sands of South Su­danese women and girls.

Many sur­vivors de­scribed how govern­ment-aligned sol­diers laughed, mocked and spat on them.

Alice said she was raped by three sol­diers who broke into her house at night look­ing for her hus­band.

“They said they were there to pun­ish him for join­ing the rebels … one said if I con­tin­ued scream­ing, he would kill me. The three men … raped me,” she said.

The South Su­dan ju­di­cial sys­tem is al­most non-ex­is­tent. The Ex­ec­u­tive and the mil­i­tary are known to ex­ert in­flu­ence over the Ju­di­ciary.

Many sur­vivors do not re­port sex­ual vi­o­lence, mainly be­cause of fear of reprisals.

How­ever, the 30 that Le­gal Ac­tion World­wide rep­re­sents in the case, want to speak about what they went through.

Their state­ments show a con­sis­tent pat­tern of rape, gang rape and sex­ual slav­ery, per­pe­trated in most cases by the govern­ment or govern­ment-aligned forces.

Many sur­vivors told of end­less suf­fer­ing from the ef­fects of phys­i­cal in­juries, gy­nae­co­log­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions, sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases, de­pres­sion and trauma, spousal de­ser­tion, iso­la­tion and stigma.

When con­fronted with facts on the use of rape as a weapon of war, the govern­ment al­ways de­nies.

It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that the first re­ac­tion by the Govern­ment of South Su­dan was to deny the re­ports of the rape of more than 150 women and girls in Ben­tiu re­gion just a week ago, de­spite con­fir­ma­tion by Medecins Sans Fron­tieres that sur­vivors sought treat­ment at its clinic.

With re­gards to the case filed at the CEDAW Com­mit­tee, the govern­ment im­me­di­ately de­nied and ac­cused the par­ties of hav­ing ul­te­rior mo­tives against the peace process.

De­spite lack of com­mit­ment by the govern­ment to ad­dress these crimes, sur­vivors refuse to re­main silent.

They want the govern­ment to be held ac­count­able for fail­ure to pre­vent and to pro­tect women and girls from sex­ual vi­o­lence.

Their mes­sage is clear: de­spite the peace deal, South Su­dan can­not mean­ing­fully move for­ward with­out hold­ing per­pe­tra­tors of these heinous vi­o­la­tions to ac­count.

The writer is Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, Le­gal Ac­tion World­wide

Rebels of the Su­dan Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment-in­op­po­si­tion take part in a mil­i­tary ex­er­cise at their base in Panyume, near the bor­der with Uganda. Many South Su­danese women and girls who are vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence do not re­port to con­cerned au­thor­i­ties for fear of reprisals.

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