The United Nations in South Sudan has condemned reports of widespread sexual violence, including rape and gang rape of women and young girls by soldiers and unidentified armed men.
In a Monday press release, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said that these acts constituted grave violations of international human rights law and could be regarded as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“These incidents have been reported from a number of locations, including areas in the vicinity of the Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites near UN House, and also in other neighbourhoods of Juba,” said UNMISS.
Since the fighting erupted in the capital, Juba, on July 8, the UN has continued to receive reports of sexual violence and rapes, despite calls to all parties for its cessation.
Deadly clashes between rival factions loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar have sent thousands of civilians fleeing the city. UNMISS compounds and civilian protection sites have been attacked.
Currently, UNMISS is engaged in the active protection of approximately 200 000 civilians in various locations throughout the country
To improve the security of vulnerable communities and groups, such as women and children residing in the UNMISS PoC sites, the mission has intensified its patrols in and around the protection sites along with in the wider Juba city area.
“As an enhanced protection measure, UNMISS is working with community leaders and protection partners to coordinate peacekeeper escorts of women and young girls leaving protection sites to collect food and non-food items at scheduled times of the day,” said the organisation.
On media allegations that UNMISS peacekeepers did not do enough to protect the victims, the statement continued: “The UN takes very seriously the allegations that peacekeepers may not have rendered aid to civilians in distress.
“UNMISS Force Headquarters is looking into the specific allegations, in line with its established protocols.”
UNMISS has informed peacekeepers that should incidents of abuse be committed in their areas of security responsibility they have an individual and joint duty to act, to prevent harm to innocent civilians.
The UN mission also urged the country’s security leadership to protect its civilians and ensure accountability for any crimes committed by its own forces.
“UNMISS notes the commitment given by the military leadership to bring alleged perpetrators to account for their actions and it will continue its engagement to see that these commitments are upheld,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, UNMISS human rights and women protection advisers continued to document human rights violations, noting more than 100 separate cases of sexual violence and rape against unarmed innocent civilians – including gang rapes and sexual abuse of minors since the July conflict outbreak.
When completed, these reports will be forwarded for follow-up action to the UN secretary-general, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
– African News Agency (ANA)