Rape as a Weapon of War: The Case of South Sudan

BY: Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Lawyer, Kampala, APR/05/2016, SSN;

This article is the comment on the recent report of the United Nations Human Rights Commission on sexual violence in South Sudan.

The report is published on A/HRC/31/49 Advance unedited version Distr.: General 10 March 2016 Original: English. In that report as part of it shall be explained below briefly shortly, horrific and heart-breaking stories on sexual violence have been reported.

Therefore, I find it relevant to summarize the part of sexual violence for the consumption of South Sudanese so that they understand the reality of the war and help me campaign to hold soldiers, militias, rebels and government accountable for this war crime (rape).

Allegations of rape as a weapon of war used by both rebels and the government in South Sudan have dominated the international news headline in recent times.

These allegations became clear after the Human Rights Council Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General, Thirty-first session Agenda item 2 Assessment mission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to improve human rights, accountability, reconciliation and capacity in South Sudan exposed it (visit: A/HRC/31/49 Advance unedited version Distr.: General 10 March 2016 Original: English as already pointed out above)

The stated above report exposes several human rights violations. However, what came out vividly in the assessment and report is that sexual and gender-based violence continued in 2015, and on a widespread basis in Unity and other states affected by war in South Sudan.

In Unity state as the report puts it, the Protection Cluster in South Sudan reported over 1,300 rapes between April 2015 and September 2015.

As the report further pointed, some of the women that the assessment team spoke to reported that sexual violence and rape had become worse in Unity as the conflict progressed.

In the same report, the team received information that the armed militias, mainly comprising of youth from Mayom or Koch counties who carry out attacks together with SPLA, do so under an agreement of “do what you can and take what you can.”

In one harrowing account, a mother of four children told how as she was walking from her village to Bentiu, she was separated from her group. When she reached another village, she encountered a group of soldiers and armed men in civilian clothing who accused her of lying about where she was coming from.

Then, the men proceeded to strip her naked and five soldiers raped her at the roadside in front of her children. She was then dragged into the bush by two other soldiers who raped her there.

To make the matters worse, when she eventually returned to the road side, her children, aged between two and seven, were missing. As the team who made this report reported, at the time of the drafting of the report her children were still missing. It was really heartbreaking, horrible and double jeopardy.

In other incident as the report pointed out, one woman described how, during an attack on her village in Koch, in October 2015, after killing her husband, SPLA soldiers tied her to a tree and forced her to watch as her 15 year-old daughter was being raped by at least 10 soldiers.

In another incident, an 18 year-old girl explained to the team how, during an attack on Gandor, in Leer County, in early October 2015, when hiding in a nearby river SPLA soldiers found her and beat and raped her twice before handing her over to two armed men in civilian clothing who also raped her. Upon her return home, she learned that her three sisters and mother had also been raped.

Again, in Upper Nile like in Unity State, sexual and gender-based violence continued after the war started in 2013.

The sexual violence was aimed at the ethnic groups of opposing forces or on suspicion of belonging to the opposition being targeted. The sexual was just being used at rampant as the weapon of war with impunity.

Furthermore, in Maban County, the assessment team (responsible for the report I am writing about) received allegations of the rape of four girls during clashes between SPLA and opposition forces in Liang, Maban County.

The team also received credible reports of sexual assaults of elderly women by opposition forces in Pigi County, Jonglei State, close to the border with Upper Nile.

In addition, between April and December 2015, protection actors documented numerous allegations of abductions, rapes, killings and disappearance of (mostly Shilluk) women from areas outside the UNMISS POC site as well as on the roads and pathways from the POC site to Malakal.

Again, according to credible sources, during fighting in Malakal Town on 25 May 2015, 24 women from the Shilluk community sought protection from the fighting in the SPLA base at Ayat Company. SPLA detained several of the women who were repeatedly raped.

Rapes also occurred when women left the UNMISS POC site to pursue various livelihood activities, such as gathering food and firewood. As one woman narrated how she and other Shilluk women encountered five SPLA soldiers on their way from the UNMISS POC site in Malakal to the riverside.

When the above mentioned SPLA soldiers saw them they called on them to stop, but they ran back towards the site. One of them returned to the UNMISS POC site only after two days and informed the witness that she had been abducted and raped by the soldiers.

The above report highlights the grave nature of South Sudanese war. Women, children and elderly are the victims of the current civil war. Sexual violence as a weapon of war has been employed against innocent civilians.

The use of rape as the weapon of war is horrible, ugly, inhuman, malicious, and heart-breaking and the international community should take it seriously. In fact, rape is classified under the international criminal law as one of the crimes against humanity.

Article 7 (1) (g)of the Rome Statute (ICC Statute; circulated as document A/CONF.183/9 of 17 July 1998 and corrected by process-verbaux of 10 November 1998, 12 July 1999, 30 November 1999, 8 May 2000, 17 January 2001 and 16 January 2002 and entered into force on 1 July 2002) provides that rape is a Crime against humanity.

Rape is sexual slavery, which is enforced prostitution that may result into forced pregnancy. It is a form of sexual violence of serious gravity, which must be taken seriously and perpetuators who commit this terrible crime with impunity brought to book and pay for their sins.

I shed tears on 04/04/2016 as I was listening to the News Day and Focus on Africa, when of a sudden, the rape issue in South Sudan came to light again. What made me shed tears even more were the narration of a young South Sudanese woman and a war victim of rape.
That lady had really suffered. She was raped with her daughter and unfortunately, her daughter died though she survived.

Her two sons were killed on alleged ground that they were Nuer and because of that they were killed since the killers believed that they were going to become rebels when they grew.

It was a very terrible story and whoever did it must pay for it. The authorities must take all necessary measures to ensure that the rapists and other criminals in South Sudanese war are brought to book.

We were not fighting to get independence of South Sudan and then turned it into butchering ground. South Sudanese should not live like animals governed by jungle laws where might rules over rights.

We should learn how to respect human dignity and human rights. Whether Nuer or Dinka or from any other tribes in South Sudan people must be respected, they are all South Sudanese children, women and elders.

Women, children and elders should be respected by all parties to war since they do not have any contributions to neither cause of war nor its effect.

Leaders of South Sudan, both in rebellion and government must control their forces. Failure to control them may lead to criminal responsibility under the international criminal law.

Article 28 of the ICC Statute (or Rome Staute) provides for the responsibility of commanders and other superiors. It provides that a military commander or person effectively acting as a military commander is criminally responsible for crimes committed by the subordinates.

If the military commander or person either knew or, owing to the circumstances at the time, should have known that the forces were committing or about to commit crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide but failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power to prevent or repress their commission or to submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution, then, he or she is liable personally.

In summary, the government and rebels must take steps to produce those who committed crimes of rape against women. It is a crime against humanity. It is contrary to the civilization.

The international community should hold the two leaders accountable if they do not direct the investigative machinery to produce the perpetrators of this terrible crime. END


  1. Beek says:

    Actually who raped main SPLM or SPLM-IO?

  2. abai okwahu says:

    unfortunately this is the ugly face of war where indiscipline in the army and irregular forces is the norm. no one is going to be prosecuted for these heinous crimes, and the united nations reports are nothing but reports that do not enjoy sufficient coverage by the international media. just take a look at the african union report on the (genocide) events of december 15, 2013, it took forever to make it public and nothing has been done about it, the killers are still in juba laughing their asses off.

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