The U.N. Secretary General's Special Envoy on Sexual Violence says women and children in South Sudan are the victims of the worst sexual violence she has ever seen.
"In all my life and experience of nearly 30 years in public service and in the UN and as a government minister, I have never seen what I have seen today,” Zainab Bangur said after visiting a U.N. camp in Bentiu last week, where thousands of people have sought shelter from months of fighting.
"I come from Sierra Leone," Bangura said. "I had the war. I was in the capital city when (it) fell. We picked bodies from streets and buried them."
"I worked in Liberia for two years... I have gone to Somalia, I have gone to DRC, I have gone to the Central African Republic and I have gone to Bosnia... but I have never seen what I saw today," she said.
Bangura made the comments at the conclusion of a one-week visit to South Sudan, which plunged into violence 10 months ago.
During her visit, Bangura met with officials, including President Salva Kiir, and civil society organizations, including women's and faith-based groups. She travelled to trouble-spots in the country, like Bentiu, and met with ordinary people who have been bearing the brunt of the violence.
I heard a story of a woman who had just given birth, who had been raped. I heard a story of an old woman who was raped. I heard a story of children as young as 10, 11 years who are being raped on a daily basis.Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict
Bentiu has seen some of the heaviest fighting in South Sudan since the crisis broke out in mid-December 2013.
More than 42,000 displaced persons are sheltering at the Protection of Civilian's (PoC) area at the U.N. compound in the town. The U.N. has said that most of the people in PoC sites are women and children.
In Bentiu, Bangura said she "heard a story of a woman who had just given birth who had been raped. I heard a story of an old woman who was raped. I heard a story of children as young as 10, 11 years who are being raped on a daily basis.”
She said information she gathered in South Sudan lay responsibility for the acts of sexual violence against women and children at the feet of government and rebel forces.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s painful ... the harassments and sexual violence that take place at checkpoints, and when the women go out to get food and when they go out to get firewood. It’s really extremely distressing,” Bangura said, fighting back tears.
Bangura said the women she met in South Sudan asked her to deliver a simple message to leaders on both sides of the conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives and forced some 1.8 million to flee their homes.
"One message... enough is enough, we want peace... sign that agreement and keep to it because we want to go back home,” Bangura said.
The U.N. said on its website, that Bangura's "visit concluded with a Joint Communique with the Government that outlines clear steps they will take to prevent and address sexual violence crimes."