by Alexandra Hallqvist and Zoë Meijer*
December, Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, made a statement addressing the current state of South Sudan and the staggering number of rapes committed, allegedly by government forces. South Sudan only became independent in 2011 and conflict erupted in late 2013 between the president and his former deputy. A peace agreement was signed between the two men in 2015, however, violence and ethnic tensions have continued. Sooka shared in her statement that, according to a UN survey, 70 percent of women in Juba habeen raped since the conflict erupted (OHCHR, 2016). The Commission Chair also stated that a “steady process of ethnic cleansing is already under way” and warned a rof a situation similar to the Rwandan genocide (OHCHR, 2016).
Similar to Bosnia and Rwanda, the Sudanese government forces are now accused of using rape and other forms of sexual violence as a tool for ethnic cleansing. Rape in this context is used with the intent to destroy a community. Victims do not only suffer from the violent, often repeated, acts, but from social exclusion by their families and communities due to stigmatization. omen in South Sudan are reported to rejected by their husbands and communities after being gang raped by soldiers (OHCHR, 2016). The ICRC noted unwanted pregnancy, exposure to HIV, physical and psychological trauma, risk of social isolation, lower likelihood of marriage and forced marriage with the perpetrator as some of the horrific consequences of rape in South Sudan (ICRC, 2016). Although victims of wartime sexual violence are often not killed, the consequences are usually lifelong. Especially in cultures where sexual violence is such a taboo and is considered to affect both the woman’s and her family’s honor, sexual violence can result in the destruction of social structures, cultural cohesion and communities’ integrity. Seeing the long term psychological and social harm sexual violence results in, there is no doubt that this form of violence needs to be a priority for local as well as transnational and international organizations and actors. More actions to prevent and impede ongoing wartime sexual violenceare needed in South Sudan and elsewhere.
As we enter 2017, sexual violence is part of many South Sudanese’ reality and everyday life. Many civilians live in fear of becoming the next victims, and are largely neglected by national as well as international actors. We must arrive a point where victims get more help and where the perpetrators – not the victims – are stigmatized, and thus suffer social as well as legal sanctions. Reduced stigmatization of victims would result in more victims speaking openly about their experiences as well as seeking help. , less stigmatization and facilitated reintegration of victims and their children will also diminish the benefits of using sexual violence as a strategic tool of war.
*Alexandra and Zoë are students at the Master Programme in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University.
- Mitchel, M. & Louvel, N. (2016).
- OHCHR (2016). “Statement by Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan at the 26th Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council.”
- Photo 1, header (View of Juba): Flavio Alagia (2011). Unnamed. Flickr. Photo taken 26 August 2010. Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/72299266@N08/8184843425/
- Photo 2 (A woman in Juba): Antheap (2011). Unnamed. Flickr. Photo taken 12 July 2011. Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wombat/5930571925/