Despite widespread cases of gang rape and rape being committed across South Sudan by government forces, rebel forces and unidentified armed groups, not one individual has been arrested or sentenced to prison, South Sudan in Focus reported this week.
On Wednesday, a top African Union official called on South Sudan’s government to apprehend and punish soldiers who sexually abused women during the three years of conflict in the country. Bineta Diop, the African Union’s special envoy for women, peace and security, said punishing the perpetrators of sexual abuse against women will guarantee the security and dignity of South Sudanese women.
Diop met this week with South Sudan Gender, Child and Social Welfare Minister Awut Deng Acuil, women activists and others in Juba about how women’s rights can be protected in South Sudan, despite ongoing fighting.
Diop said the African Union (AU) has launched a campaign aimed at restoring the dignity of women in South Sudan. It is being led by African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who said, “it’s time for us to silence the guns in South Sudan. It’s time for us to restore peace in this country, but in particular we must restore the dignity of women in South Sudan.”
Diop added that the AU stands firmly with South Sudanese women who launched 16 days of activism against sexual violence. She said the AU wants women to have a say in finding solutions to South Sudan’s widespread problem of sexual abuse.
“They deserve to be considered as human beings. So restoring the dignity is for us to stand together as men, as officials, as international authorities, as AU, all of us to say that women of South Sudan have suffered and it’s enough and we need to give them the dignity they deserve.”
Diop said it’s important to hear the voices of victims and survivors trapped in South Sudan’s conflict so that women’s rights are not violated in the future.
“We need also to see peace in South Sudan. But we need also to reconcile. We have been hearing from the messages that the women have brought to us. We need to stop the violence. We need to have the security in our house, in our family, in our community,” saif Diop.
Diop called on national, state, and local government officials to enforce the laws and arrest and punish the criminals who violate women’s rights.
Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, AU Director of Women Gender Development, said the aspirations of women and youth must be recognized.
She said the AU wants to see the energy of youth and women being tapped to make peace a reality in South Sudan.
“When the right of dignity has been violated, [that is] really [one of] the fundamentals for peace; to guarantee the right of dignity. When there is no peace, there is no human dignity, and the lack of peace means basically that most of your rights do not exist,” said Wheeler.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner released a statement on Monday saying sexual violence has become widespread in South Sudan and the perpetrators of such crimes must be punished.