*Trigger warning: the article contains information that may distress some readers.
South Sudanese women and girls unfortunately are soft targets for unspeakable sexual violence. The crime has witnessed an “upsurge [particularly] after warring leaders signed an agreement to end five years of conflict in the country,” in late 2019. Despite the crime being of common knowledge among the South Sudanese population and having been officially reported on and investigated by The United Nations, addressing it and bringing the perpetrators to justice has not been made a national priority. The South Sudanese government has chosen to turn a blind eye to this harrowing truth by “denying the [truthfulness] of figures]” and wilfully ignoring the anguish of survivors. Unfortunately, women and girls live with the daily fear of sexual violence, as they have become a soft target for the perpetrators. Here, UN news online has reported by “citing the testimony of one victim that women are raped while fetching firewood, food or water- more often more than once.” Further, UN News online has reported that the perpetrators “of the attacks have been reported [to belong to] youth militia groups and elements of the pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition, as well as South Sudan’s People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF).”
The South Sudanese government’s response to the crime has been that of denial and wilful ignorance. Indeed, Aljazeera has reported that in response to a “Doctors Without Borders report [which revealed] that in November of 2018, 125 women and girls … were raped, beaten and brutalized in Rubkona country, northern South Sudan, in the 10 days between November 19 and 29 , 2018,” a government official dismissed this finding by attacking its credibility. Adding insult to injury, this individual was in fact Awut Deng Acguil, the gender, child & social welfare minister [who] described the numbers as “unfounded and baseless,” adding that, “there are no facts found to verify the rape cases.” To that end, investigatory processes set up to investigate the crime have dishonourably been affected by corruption and political manipulation, which has ultimately resulted in false findings being forced as the truth. Sam Mednick writing for APNews Online reveals that “When investigations do take place, committee members are hand-picked by President Salva Kiir and carried out in secrecy… Reports are often buried and their findings largely ignore crimes committed by the army.’]” Such deceptive and dishonourable tactics salt the wound, as it further adds to the sense of despair and agony experienced by survivors and their families who should be legally entitled to bring the perpetrators to justice. A country that is supposed to be moving towards stabilizing not only its domestic matters but also its international standing, South Sudan’s blind ignorance to the issue of sexual violence does neither bolster their international standing nor strengthen its peoples’ confidence in the potential for good governance in the country,
As a nation that is supposedly moving towards peace following the ceasefire agreement reached between warring factions, the South Sudanese government’s response to the suffering of sexual violence victims in itself will stymie this vie towards peace, progress and national development. A country that regards the safety of its women and girls as third class and inferior to political power play robs itself of its own future. The South Sudanese government in this post-conflict stage must take a strong stand and recognize the voices of survivors and their families who live in anguish. Indeed, failure to take a stand will send a strong message to the perpetrators that their crimes are beyond the arms of justice, and that the damaging effect of their actions is merely part and parcel of life in South Sudan for those without guns. The findings of international reports must be taken seriously. The perpetrators must be brought to justice for the brutal rapes and murders that they have committed. The South Sudanese government must take action now, hopefully in the near future these criminals are where they belong, which is locked behind steel bars.
The stories of survivors are harrowing and beyond torturous. It has come to light that it is common for these perpetrators to rape victims in front of their families. Indeed, Aljazeera online recounts the ordeal of a woman named ‘Teresa’ whose real name has been suppressed. She recounts witnessing the murder of “her husband and his two brothers [who were] shot dead by armed men in uniform.” These men then proceeded to “rape her repeatedly…they [also] took away two of her children [whom] she has never seen again.” ‘Teresa’ became pregnant as a result of the rapes.
Peace and security can never be realized in a country where women and girls are preyed viciously upon by criminals adorned in government uniform. In fact, such alarming facts and statistics strongly reiterate that this post-war ceasefire period is not synonymous with peace. South Sudan must move towards good governance and accountability and away from the corruption and debauchery that is live and prevalent in the nations’ fabric. South Sudan must implement tough laws which shield its populous against such crimes. Taking strong and decisive actions now will protect lives and change the country’s trajectory for the better in years to come. Gender based violence cannot be cured overnight, but nation states as responsible actors must stand for what is true and right, and must put an end to the suffering.
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