The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2021/312) issued on 30 March 2021.
The 2017 Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities continued to hold and the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity was established in February 2020 despite delays in implementing the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. While women’s participation in the peace process remains below the 35 per cent quota stipulated in the peace agreement, women now hold 9 of the 35 ministerial positions. Localized violence intensified with sexual violence being used as a tactic to displace and terrorize rival communities. The appointee for the governorship of Western Equatoria State was profiled by the United Nations in 2018 for his alleged involvement in widespread conflict-related sexual violence, including sexual slavery, in his former capacity as a commander of the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO/RM). In Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria and Upper Nile, violence is attributed to fracturing alliances, whereas intercommunal clashes intensified in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, Warrap and Lakes. The number of abductions for the purposes of forced marriage and sexual slavery – a chronic feature of the conflict – has increased in Jonglei since late January 2020, with over 390 women and girls abducted during violence over access to natural resources between heavily armed rival civil defence groups.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) documented 193 cases of conflict-related sexual violence affecting 142 women, 46 girls and 5 men. A further 25 cases, which occurred between 2014 and 2019, affecting 14 women, 8 girls and 3 men, were also verified in 2020. Perpetrators included community-based militias, civil defence groups and other armed elements. The South Sudan People’s Defence Forces were implicated in 27 per cent of the incidents. Cases were also attributed to members of the South Sudan National Police Service and the National Security Service. Some 11 per cent of incidents were attributed to Major General Ochan Puot’s forces allied to the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces. SPLA-IO/RM was implicated in 8 per cent of incidents. Civil defence groups now account for 32 per cent of reported cases. The remaining cases involve other actors such as the National Salvation Front (NAS), under Major General Daniel Dongo and Major General James Nando, both of whom defected from SPLA-IO/RM, and unidentified armed men. The majority of cases occurred in the Greater Equatoria Region, Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el-Ghazal. Survivors ranged in age from 3 to 70 years, with 81 per cent subjected to rape, gang rape or attempted rape. Cases of forced nudity, forced marriage, sexual slavery and threats of sexual violence were also recorded. Service providers reported 227 incidents perpetrated by armed actors. Sexual violence was often committed during or on the margins of military operations and in the vicinity of military bases and cantonment and training sites, while victims were engaged in routine livelihood activities. Nursing mothers and pregnant women were not spared, and attacks were also reported against internally displaced persons and individuals with disabilities. Victims were often targeted on the basis of their actual or perceived ethnic or political affiliation, with some stripped naked in public as a form of humiliation.
Access to services remained extremely challenging, with survivors often compelled to undertake long journeys, which exposed them to the risk of further harm. In consultations on the impact of the pandemic, survivors of sexual violence reported reduced access to clinics owing to fears of contracting the virus and higher rates of intimate partner violence and harmful traditional practices, such as early marriage. In order to enhance reporting and response, the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare launched a helpline for those affected by gender-based violence, with support from civil society and the United Nations. The United Nations supported the establishment of two one-stop centres in Akobo and Aweil, and a shelter in Western Bahr el-Ghazal. A communiqué was issued on 18 September by the leader of NAS, committing to training its forces on the prohibition of sexual violence. With UNMISS support, the implementation of the action plans of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, the South Sudan National Police Service and SPLA-IO/RM continued, with over 700 uniformed personnel receiving training on command orders prohibiting sexual violence. The United Nations assisted the Military Justice Directorate of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces in conducting training on international and domestic legal standards to prosecute sexual violence crimes. With technical support from the United Nations, the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces finalized a training curriculum for new recruits on preventing and eliminating conflict-related sexual violence, which was endorsed by the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Forces. In anticipation of the deployment of unified forces, the leadership of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and SPLA-IO/RM initiated the consolidation of action plans on preventing and eliminating sexual violence. A welcome development was the release of dozens of women and children held against their will on SPLA-IO/RM bases in Western Equatoria, in line with command orders issued by Riek Machar, the leader of SPLA-IO/RM, in 2019.
Although impunity remains prevalent, 2020 saw a total of 26 uniformed personnel convicted for conflict-related sexual violence, including the rape and gang- rape of minors, by military and civilian courts, including mobile courts, supported by the United Nations in Kuajok, Malakal, Maridi, Yambio and Wau. The personnel convicted were 16 elements of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces, 5 members of the South Sudan National Police Service and 5 members of SPLA-IO/RM. The South Sudan People’s Defence Forces also prosecuted and convicted 13 soldiers of rape, at the district court martial in Yei. The resulting sentences ranged from 7 to 14 years of imprisonment and included orders to compensate the survivors financially and in heads of cattle. To date, survivors have not received compensation, however, and only low-ranking soldiers have been tried. Concerns persist about the absence of protection measures for survivors during court proceedings. In Western Equatoria, two survivors were so intimidated by the courtroom presence of armed senior commanders that they stopped attending court hearings.
I welcome the formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity and urge all parties to comply with the provisions prohibiting the use of sexual violence, as set out in the 2017 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and in the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. I also welcome the Government’s announcement that it will expedite the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms, including the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, and call for all perpetrators of sexual violence to be prosecuted, irrespective of rank. I further call for the immediate and safe release of all abducted women and children.