THE United Nations has called for the immediate release of up to 900 civilians — the majority being women and girls — who were taken six months ago in an upsurge of fighting in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria region.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN’s peacekeeping mission in South Sudan have published a report on abuses in two states in the region, which draws on testimonies from victims and witnesses.
It says that women and girls as young as 12 were abducted by opposition forces, then paraded and lined up for commanders to choose as “wives”.
Nearly 900 people were abducted, and 24,000 were forced to flee their homes. Those who were not chosen were left for other fighters, who subjected them to repeated rape. Abducted young men and boys were forced to fight.
The abductions happened in April while both sides in South Sudan’s bloody civil war were negotiating a peace agreement, which was eventually signed in September (News, 14 September).
At least 50,000 people have been killed and two million have been displaced in the civil war, which has raged since 2013, two years after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan.
The report says that commanders of the opposition forces “used predatory tactics against local communities in Western Equatoria to bolster their own standing within their military ranks and to attract new recruits. Their actions included the abduction of women and girls, who were subjected to sexual violence, including rape and sexual slavery, by commanders and fighters. They also committed looting, forced displacement and recruitment of adults and children as well as unlawful killings.”
The attacks focused on 28 villages and one refugee camp. Some villages were attacked several times.
At least 887 civilians were abducted, including 505 women and 63 girls.
The UN said that it was concerned that the women and girls would have been subjected to rape and were being held as sex slaves.
Government forces also breached human rights and humanitarian law, the report says.
The UN has urged the government of South Sudan to hold the perpetrators of the abuses to account.
The report singles out three opposition commanders as responsible for most of the human rights abuses committed since April.