The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2019/280) issued on 30 March 2019.

In 2018, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) recorded an alarming increase in the number of incidents and victims of conflict-related sexual violence. UNMISS documented 238 incidents, involving 1,291 victims, the majority being women and girls, with 10 male victims. Of the total number, 153 were children. The most common violation was abduction for the purposes of sexual slavery, followed by rape and gang rape. Other violations included attempted rape, forced marriage and forced abortion. The incidents were attributed to the following perpetrators: South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (84); pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (92); pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (11); South Sudan National Liberation Movement (1); National Security Services (2); South Sudan National Police Service (2); Lou Nuer militia (1) and unidentified gunmen (25). The Mission notes, however, that sexual violence is likely underreported owing to the shift of the conflict to more remote and hard-to-reach areas. Furthermore, stigma, the fear of reprisals, the lack of services and the criminalization of same-sex conduct likely inhibited reporting. The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, established by the Human Rights Council, concludes that continuing violence and human rights violations, including rape and sexual violence, may amount to war crimes (see A/HRC/40/69). The Commission notes that the situation has markedly worsened since 2017, with documented cases showing a surge in rapes between November and December 2018, particularly in Northern Liech State.

The first two quarters of 2018 saw repeated violations of the ceasefire agreement, part of the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement between Parties of the Conflict of South Sudan. Major clashes in Western Bahr el-Ghazal, Central and Western Equatoria and Unity States featured rampant human rights violations, including the systematic use of rape, gang rape and abductions for sexual slavery, to S/2019/280 18/35 19-04552 terrorize, punish and displace civilians. Civilians continued to flee their villages, fearing atrocities including sexual violence, mainly during clashes between the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition in southern Unity and Western Equatoria. The allied forces of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition and youth militias abducted and raped women and girls, forcing many to flee their villages in southern Unity. In Western Equatoria, the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition also abducted women and girls for the purpose of rape and sexual slavery.

In July 2018, my Special Representative visited Juba and Malakal and met survivors and witnesses who continue to live in situations of acute vulnerability. Their horrific testimonies of sexual violence were consistent with the report released on 10 July 2018 by UNMISS and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, describing indiscriminate attacks against civilians in southern Unity State and finding that at least 120 women and girls as young as 4 were raped and gang-raped. In addition, the report documented the abduction of 132 women and girls for sexual slavery. In the interim report of the Panel of Experts of November 2018 (S/2018/1049), the Panel specifically refers to command responsibility for alleged violations in Unity.

In September, a special military court, established to try cases involving the rape of humanitarian workers at Terrain Hotel, convicted 10 rank and file soldiers of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and sentenced them to between 10 and 14 years’ imprisonment for committing sexual crimes. Unfortunately, the verdict was limited to low-ranking soldiers, with senior officers having largely evaded liability, and was achieved only after intense international pressure for accountability.

In December, during the proceedings of mobile courts in Bentiu, three men accused of rape identified themselves as soldiers of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces. All were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for 6 to 12 years, which represents important progress. The Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan calls for the creation of a Hybrid Court to try serious international crimes, including sexual violence, but there has been insufficient progress on the creation of this court.

Recommendation

I urge the Government of South Sudan to rigorously and expeditiously investigate all incidents of sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable, regardless of rank. I further urge the Government to establish the Hybrid Court without delay, to provide comprehensive services to survivors, to extend services into remote locations and to grant full access to humanitarian organizations assisting victims and displaced civilians. Considering the scale and consequences of these violations, I also urge the Government to ensure that conflict-related sexual violence is addressed as a central aspect of the Revitalized Agreement of 2018 and in accordance with the joint communiqué signed in 2014, including by ensuring that crimes of sexual violence are not amnestied and that victims receive reparations and livelihood support.

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