Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) has been a problem in South Sudan. In 2021, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated at least 3,414 civilian deaths, injuries, abductions, or sexual violence related to the CRSV in South Sudan. A report published by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that 87 per cent of rape survivors experienced rape from multiple perpetrators.
South Sudan needs to improve the assessment and treatment of CRSV victims. It is also imperative that a free and fair justice system exists. In addition, there needs to be public education campaign about sexual violence.
Government and military leaders instrumentalize CRSV against women as a weapon of war. Military men, warring parties, and small armed groups carry out sexual violence to mete out retribution against perceived enemies and their people. Over time, the usage of CSRV as a weapon of war has served to destroy the fabric of personal relationships, families, and communities. Measures targeted against the vices have failed due to bad leadership.
According to the UN, the continuity of sexual violence can be traced to how the South Sudanese government fosters the freedom of sexual violence perpetrators. It is also connected to South Sudan leaders’ failure to punish those who commit sexual violence. A report affirms that some officials and armed groups, under the government and military, committed widespread rape and abuse. These perpetrators still maintain their ranks and positions without facing any considerable consequences.
An inclusive meeting is the first step in the right direction. A national conference involving government officials, civil society representatives, traditional rulers, and religious leaders is necessary. In this meeting, the purpose should be to identify the root causes of CRSV, such as systemic impunity and inefficient legislation. Understanding South Sudan’s root causes of sexual violence, therefore, can provide insight into why it has lasted so long. The leaders can, then, determine what course to take based on understanding the origins of the problem. Moreso, such a conference would strengthen the momentum for action.
Access to a free and fair justice system is critical. There is a need for a fairer justice system since many CRSV perpetrators get away with punishment for their crimes. The South Sudanese government needs to amend its legislation to meet international law standards against sexual violence. Currently, in the South Sudan constitution, there is a lack of clarity in the definition of rape and a lack of specific rules on consent for rape. There also exists a lack of protection for rape victims. The amendment needs to, therefore, target these areas and prioritize zero tolerance for sexual violence crimes.
Education is key to curbing the long-standing sexual violence against women and children in South Sudan. South Sudan’s Ministry of General Education and Instruction can set up schemes to educate children, teenagers, and young adults. Information campaigns about CRSV, especially in conflict areas, will further sensitize the people in South Sudan. Such an educational scheme will encourage more sexual violence victims to speak out. Furthermore, security personnel needs to undergo second-level education on how to tackle sexual violence. Specialized investigative training on health-related cases needs to follow too.
According to Borgenproject, in South Sudan, less than half of the population has access to health care. There is an urgency to tackle the latter since women in this country have severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to sexual violence. The provision of rapid medical assessment and treatment of sexual violence victims can adequately alleviate this health crisis. Rapid medical assessment can be done by setting up an emergency health system, including mobile hospitals and clinics near localities. Such medical intervention will allow victims to receive swift and adequate medical care. Quick treatment for CRSV victims in the early stages will prevent not only primary health issues but also Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
In South Sudan, CSRV against women and children now sits alongside the uncertainties of everyday life. Over time, sexual violence has become increasingly damaging to the right of every human. It will take a concerted effort from all sectors to end this epidemic of violence. However, it is achievable with commitment and determination.
Muyiwa Adekojede is a writing fellow at the African Liberty.