The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2018/250) issued on 16 April 2018.
During the hostilities that erupted in Juba in July 2016 and engulfed other regions of South Sudan, and in the aftermath, attacks on civilians included widespread and systematic sexual violence employed as a tactic of war, with marked political and ethnic undertones. That trend continued unabated throughout 2017. In almost all recorded cases, the perpetrators and victims came from rival ethnic groups, with the physical violence often accompanied by verbal insults levelled against victims on the basis of their identity and presumed allegiance. According to the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (A/HRC/37/71), appalling acts of rape, mutilation of sexual organs and other forms of sexual violence were perpetrated against women, girls, men and boys, often in front of relatives, in order to humiliate victims, families and entire communities, or as a form of punishment in detention settings. The proliferation of militias with ready access to arms increased the rate of sexual violence, including as a driver of displacement. By the end of 2017, there were almost 2 million civilians displaced in South Sudan, including 209,898 living in sites for the protection of civilians managed by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). An additional 2 million civilians had fled across the border, with the risk of sexual violence exacerbated during flight, because elements of the security forces, militias and roving bands of armed young people were preying upon women and girls. Social stigma and community pressure perpetuate the silence surrounding such crimes, which can result in wives being shunned by their husbands and girls being withdrawn from school. An estimated 90 per cent of disputes are referred to traditional mechanisms, which may order victims to marry their attackers.
In 2017, UNMISS documented 196 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, affecting 128 women and 68 girls. The incidents involved rape (88), gang rape (63), abduction for the purpose of sexual assault (31) and attempted rape (14). The decrease in reported incidents, from 577 verified in 2016, is ascribed to the severely restricted access to conflict zones. Moreover, UNMISS was unable to verify violations suffere d by persons who relocated to other regions or to third countries. The attacks were attributed to SPLA (67), the pro-Taban Deng Sudan People’s Liberation Army-inOpposition (SPLA-IO) (4), the pro-Machar SPLA-IO (7), the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM) (1), the South Sudan People’s Patriotic Front (SSPPF) (2), militia allied to SPLA (5), militia allied to SPLA-IO (4), the South Sudan National Police Service (1), with the remainder attributed to unidentified gunmen. None of the incidents have been prosecuted to date.
Since 2014, successive commitments, ceasefire agreements, command orders and communiqués have been signed, including to prevent and punish sexual violence, and the United Nations continues to engage with the parties to encourage compliance, which remains at a vastly insufficient level. Therefore, as noted in my special report on the renewal of the mandate of UNMISS (S/2018/143), it is my intention to further strengthen accountability. The working group of the United Nations and the Government on the implementation of the joint communiqué on sexual violence met regularly throughout 2017, including to design an implementation plan with the national security forces. UNMISS, in collaboration with the Team of Experts, facilitated training for 310 members of SPLA and 85 officers of the national police (including 21 women) to reinforce individual and command responsibility for preventing and addressing sexual violence. SPLA commanders have approved an action plan to address conflict-related sexual violence, and, in November 2017, the Inspector General of Police formed a committee to prepare a similar plan for the police. In May 2017, the special tribunal constituted under the general court martial of SPLA commenced its trial of SPLA soldiers charged with crimes, including the rape and gang rape of humanitarian workers housed at the Terrain hotel compound in 2016. The court allowed victims to give statements via videoconference and permitted the use of closed sessions to protect the identities of victims and witnesses. The court dismissed charges against one defendant (now deceased) and the trial of the remaining 11 continues, with UNMISS monitoring the proceedings.
In an increasingly arduous operating environment, UNMISS and humanitarian actors have managed to enhance early warning systems, increase the speed of patrols, including firewood patrols, and establish weapons-free zones around sites for the protection of civilians. Those measures notwithstanding, conflict-related sexual violence continues to be reported in and around displacement settings, with women being frequently robbed and raped when they attempt to fetch water or firewood, gain access to markets or mills or cultivate fields. The attendant fear restricts mobility, impeding women from undertaking vital sustenance activities on which families depend. A total of 2,670 victims of gender-based violence nationwide received medical and psychosocial support through established referral pathways, and the United Nations continued to support medical facilities to ensure that rape kits were stocked and personnel were trained on the clinical management services for survivors of rape.
I urge parties to the conflict to honour the commitments made in the respective communiqués to prevent and punish conflict-related sexual violence, to remove suspected perpetrators from the armed and security forces and to respect the sanctity of sites for the protection of civilians. I call upon the authorities to ensure the effective functioning of special protection units in the police so as to enhance their responsiveness to women affected by the conflict.