UN pushes for robust policy to net perpetrators of sexual crime

UN pushes for robust policy to net perpetrators of sexual crime
UNMISS emblem [Photo, UNMISS]

The United Nations Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan is urging the government to declare zero tolerance on conflict-related sexual assaults.

Speaking to the media in Juba on Thursday, Andrew Clapham, a member of the Commission, urged the government to launch an all-out war on the vice, even if it means prosecuting government and military officials found culpable of perpetrating it. 

“We feel such a commitment could be concretely demonstrated by even prosecuting senior government and military officials associated with such crimes,” he said.

The Commission is currently on its tenth visit to the country. The specialists will investigate conflict-related sexual assaults against women and girls in South Sudan.

The appeal follows the recent UNMISS human rights report, which indicates a 218 per cent rise in conflict-related sexual violence.

Gang rape is one of the most prevalent sexual violence offences connected to conflict mentioned in this quarter.

“The exponential surge in sexual and gender-based violence is completely unacceptable, impacting most severely on women and girls,” the UNMISS report states.

Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, said the continuous conflict across the country, especially in Equatoria, has produced a dangerous situation of severe insecurity for women and girls.

“The stories they told when we were interviewing them were incredibly harrowing,” she said. 

“The suffering of girls and women is really extensive and they have become one of the primary targets of the conflict,” Yasmina added. 

She stressed that conflict-related sexual violence has grown widespread in the country and has been localised in intercommunal conflicts.

Women affected

Yasmina said several of the women interviewed by the commission expressed hatred for the children they carried as a result of rape.

“Many of them said that when they look at the face of the child and you see the face of your rapist, it makes it very difficult for you to deal with that.”

According to Yasmina, individuals guilty of these violations must face consequences.

“We don’t need only to see the foot soldiers prosecuted. What we want to see is the leadership of the different armed forces accountable.”

“This is the only way that sexual violence in this country will stop when you put powerful leadership on trial,” Ms. Yasmina stressed.

The commissioners recognised that delays in implementing the 2018 peace agreement are one of the reasons fuelling persistent SGBV.

Another commissioner, Barney Afako, said it is critical that the government not only establish the truth, reconciliation, and healing commission but also takes the necessary steps to establish a hybrid court.

He said the commission should establish the compensation and reparation authority so that victims of violence can receive appropriate assistance and help.

Mr Afako emphasised the significance of establishing institutions that will provide stability, justice, and compensation to all those whose rights have been violated.

UNMISS has been supporting the authorities to ensure accountability and access to justice for survivors and victims through a range of special and mobile courts, such as the adjudication of rape trials through a General Court Martial process in Yei, Central Equatoria State.