The U.N. official who combats sexual violence in conflict said Tuesday that such atrocities have "escalated dramatically" in South Sudan this year and that accountability is needed to prevent more rapes.
"In 2018, there has been a clear and alarming increase in the number of cases and victims of conflict-related sexual violence documented," Pramila Patten told the Security Council via a video link from London. "The number of victims in 2018 has already reached 1,157 making it the highest number recorded in the last three years."
Patten, who is the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said sexual violence is "rampant" in South Sudan and is "used as part of a strategy to degrade, shame and humiliate" both the victims and their communities — often along ethnic or political lines. Perpetrators have been identified both from the national army and opposition fighters.
‘Raped to death’
Sexual violence is not a new phenomenon in the young nation, but the world was appalled when medical charity Doctors Without Borders said last month that it had treated 125 women and girls in the space of a single week for horrific injuries resulting from rapes. They were attacked while on the road to a food distribution site in Bentiu, in Unity state.
The organization said some of the victims were less than 10 years old and others older than 65. Pregnant women were also among those attacked, beaten and raped.
The U.N.'s Patten said the November attacks are part of a trend and consistent with what the U.N. found in a report it published in July.
"A 6-year-old girl was gang raped by eight soldiers who continued to violate her even as she became unconscious," Patten recounted from the July report. "Some victims were raped to death, not surviving the sexual violence to which they were subjected."
The abduction of women by the opposition militia of Riek Machar — the SPLA-IO — for sexual slavery has also become commonplace. Patten said in Western Equatoria region the U.N. documented in October the abduction of 505 women and 63 girls as sex slaves.
"Survivors were reportedly tied to trees and gang raped until they passed out," Patten said. "In SPLA-IO transit points or bases, women and girls as young as 12 were lined up for the commanders to choose as 'wives.' "
She said those who were not chosen were left for other fighters and subjected to repeated rapes. The abuse reportedly only ended once the women agreed to join the ranks as fighters.
Patten said in meetings with government officials, they acknowledged the pervasiveness of sexual violence and that it is unacceptable.
"However, this sense of outrage must be translated into concrete action," she said. "A policy of 'zero tolerance' cannot be underpinned by the reality of 'zero consequence. ' "
She said it is still "largely cost-free" to rape in South Sudan. "Until we raise the cost and consequences for committing, commanding or condoning these crimes, we will not end the prevailing impunity that is driver of sexual violence."
Survivors must also be provided access to medical and psychosocial services and receive reparations to help them rebuild their lives.
Patten said prosecution and accountability of perpetrators are critical tools in preventing further sexual violence. She also urged council members not to underestimate the ability of targeted sanctions to have a deterrent impact on would-be perpetrators.