A new report by Amnesty International says that hunger forced civilians living at UN ‘protection camps’ to venture outside and seek food during a three week period last year, resulting in the gang-rape of numerous women who had been under the protection of international peacekeepers.
The United Nations has been housing tens of thousands of ethnic Nuers at ‘protection camps’ in the South Sudanese capital Juba since late 2013. The UN can’t return them to their homes for fear they would be unsafe there, but also won’t relocate them elsewhere, claiming the war and ethnic targeting in South Sudan are only temporary.
A year ago from 8 to 11 July 2016 government troops and ex-rebels that had been brought to Juba under the terms of a peace deal clashed in the capital resulting in hundreds of dead. The fighting marked the end of the peace deal between President Salva Kiir’s SPLA and then-Vice President Riek Machar’s SPLA-IO.
Amnesty International in a report released Monday said that the four-day period in July last year and the weeks that followed were “marked by serious violations and abuses of international human rights law.”
“Government soldiers deliberately killed civilians, fired indiscriminately in civilian neighbourhoods and around UN bases and PoC sites, and engaged in a massive campaign of looting civilian and humanitarian property. During the July 2016 violence in Juba, the government and SPLA-IO forces committed acts of sexual violence against women and girls. Most cases of sexual violence were committed by government soldiers, police officers and members of the National Security Services (NSS), particularly at checkpoints and during house-to-house searches,” reads the report.
In one highly publicized case, government soldiers raped and gang raped at least seven women, including foreign humanitarian workers, during an 11 July attack on the Terrain hotel in the Jebel neighbourhood.
Many other less publicized violations occurred during this period as well, however. The United Nations, which had promised protection and basic humanitarian care for the civilians in the protection camps, was unable to feed them all adequately after government troops looted the World Food Programme’s largest warehouse in the country and disrupted humanitarian logistics and distribution efforts.
According to Amnesty International, “Government forces continued to commit acts of sexual violence even in the weeks after the fighting in Juba ended. Due to the delays in food distributions following the fighting and because Nuer men who left the PoC were at grave risk of being killed, women living in the PoC sites in Jebel had little choice but to venture out to purchase food and other necessities in town markets. When doing so, they had to run through a gauntlet of government soldiers stationed at the Yei Road checkpoint.”
“Soldiers systematically beat, raped and gang raped Nuer women who passed by. Some were abducted and held as sex slaves for days or weeks. Between 8 and 25 July, UNMISS documented cases of rape and gang rape involving 217 victims,” the report adds.
Rachel left the Juba PoC around 13 July to buy cooking oil, meat, vegetables and sugar at the Customs Market. On her way back, she was gang raped by four government police near the Eye Radio offices. She screamed and their sergeant in charge came and intervened.
“He ordered them [the four police officers] to put me in his car. It was a police car, black in colour…He took me to the hospital and I got medicine and recovered…After that he told me, ‘You are now ok, but I want you to be my wife. You will remain here forever’. I stayed there for 13 days with that sergeant in his house, and he used to have sex with me, until one day…I decided to escape,” Rachel said.
Likewise, eighteen-year-old Nyakache was returning to the UN House PoC site from Juba’s Custom Market on 17 July 2016, together with four other women. They were attacked and gang raped by a group of seven Dinka government soldiers in the Jebel neighbourhood, again near the Eye Radio offices.
Nyakache said: “We were five women when we left to the market… we bought what we had planned to buy…. On our way back, we met soldiers and they asked, ‘Where is Riek Machar?’ We replied, ‘We don’t know’. They ordered us to move ahead to the bushes. When we reached there, they tied us with rope, and started picking us one after another. They raped me. They also penetrated my mouth with their penises while other soldiers penetrated my anus. It was very painful.”
Nyafene, 29 years old, was among the same group. She recounted how the soldiers raped each of the women. “They tied the five of us to one tree…they untied the first lady from the tree, put her down and raped her…After that, they untied the second lady and also raped her…then the third and the fourth. I was the third one to be raped. They pulled off my clothes and raped me.”
Nyafene explained that the fifth woman tried to refuse, but the soldiers overpowered her and then mutilated her as a punishment for trying to resist. “She told them, ‘I will not allow you to do [to me] what you have done to those women…I will never allow you to rape me’.”
“She fought them and she was strong, but in the end they defeated her. Seven of them [the government soldiers], tied her down and raped her. After they finished raping her, they removed a knife from their pocket, cut the flesh around her vagina, and showed it to her and told her, ‘You refused to give us your vagina peacefully, now we have enjoyed it and we have it. Now what are you going to do?’”
Nyaguene was also raped on 17 July 2017. She was returning to the PoC site with a group of over 50 women when they encountered many government soldiers at the Yei Road checkpoint. She recalled that there was a captain among them who gave explicit orders that the women should be raped.
“The captain ordered the soldiers to choose any woman they felt like they wanted among us. Ten soldiers chose me… They took me inside a small room where then they decided to rape me. They pulled off my clothes and the 10 of them raped me, twice each… Some of them wanted to rape me using objects but others advised them ‘We shouldn’t do that, let us just use our penises’. They used both sides [vaginal and anal rape].”
‘The captain ordered the soldiers to choose any woman… The 10 of them raped me, twice each.’
Seven government soldiers gang raped Nyabang on 20 July 2017 when she left the Juba PoC site, intending to collect food from the World Food Programme warehouse on Yei Road, which she heard had been looted.
She recounted the words of her attackers: “They spoke to me in Dinka, saying that I must be a Nuer woman. They told me, ‘You woman from Dr. Riek supporters…we are going to show you today. We are going to rape you and you will produce our kids through your vagina, your anus and your mouth’… all of them raped me… they penetrated my vagina, anus and even they inserted their penises inside my mouth… They raped me simply because I am a Nuer… They told me I should blame Dr. Riek Machar for what happened to me.”
Amnesty’s new report documents rape cases elsewhere in the country as well. It is based on joint research human rights defenders and Amnesty researchers who interviewed 168 survivors and 14 witnesses to incidents of sexual violence that have occurred since the start of South Sudan’s civil war in December 2013.
The rights researchers collected testimonies from the UNMISS Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites in Juba and Bentiu, in Ganyliel area in Unity state, and in refugee settlemeents in Uganda, including Kiryandongo refugee camp, Pagrinya I and II, Bidibidi and Imvepi camps.
Amnesty explains that the cruelty evident in many of these rape accounts was amplified by further acts of violence intended to mutilate or humiliate women and girls: “Some rapists aggravated their crimes by other acts of cruelty, such as mutilating victims with knives or raping them with objects such as sticks. Some killed their victims outright while others left them bleeding, seemingly indifferent to whether they lived or died. Elderly women, young girls, and pregnant women have not been spared.”
The report says “ethnic targeting has occurred with frequency,” adding that Nuer civilians have been targeted “because of their assumed affiliation with the SPLM/A-IO, and perpetrators’ desire to punish and defeat the SPLM/A-IO and its supporters.”
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