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South Sudan Army Accused of 'Brutal' Sexual Violence

FILE - South Sudanese soldiers suspected of beating and raping civilians are chained together at the presidential guard unit, within the Sudan People's Liberation Army headquarters, after their arrest in Juba, March 3, 2017.

A group of human rights lawyers has filed a lawsuit against the government of South Sudan for sexual violence on behalf of 30 women and girls who were allegedly raped by members of the army and the presidential guard.

Antonia Mulvey, director of Legal Action Worldwide, a nonprofit network of human rights lawyers, said the South Sudan army committed "brutal" sexual violence, including sexual slavery, sexual torture, rape and gang rape against women and girls.

Mulvey says the complaint was lodged Thursday in Geneva at the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

"They [CEDAW] will review the complaint and a copy will be sent to the government of South Sudan for comment," Mulvey said.

Scale of sexual violence

According to the LAW statement, the victims include a 12-year-old girl who witnessed the rape of two sisters and a neighbor after being raped herself.

Other allegations:

* Scovi, 27 years old and a mother of four, was gang raped by five government soldiers.

* Mary, 30 years old, was gang raped by four government soldiers in front of her children. After recovering, she fled with her children and was again gang raped by another group of soldiers, while the men and children in the group were made to watch.

* Gloria, 24 years old, was gang raped by government soldiers in front of her two sons, aged five and two. Her husband later left her, saying she was infected with HIV.

LAW works in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia and predominantly focuses on addressing sexual violence through legal intervention. In Bangladesh, LAW is co-representing 400 Rohingya women and girls in their victims' submission before the ICC.

"At this time, we can't say this [South Sudan] case will go ICC. However, what we want to do by lodging this complaint to the U.N. committee is to remind the international community of the brutal sexual violence taking place on a daily level against tens of thousands of South Sudanese women and girls," Mulvey said.

Government reaction

In response to the claim, presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said the LAW group wants to destabilize South Sudan.

"I think this group has a hidden agenda, given that the whole world is talking about this [September 12] peace agreement signed in Khartoum and Addis Ababa. There is a positive talk about the implementation of the peace agreement and this group (LAW) wants to put South Sudan back to polarization."

Mulvey wasn't surprised by the government's reaction.

"The standard response, particularly to [accusations] of sexual violence, is to deny that it occurred in the first place," Mulvey said.

Doctors Without Borders reported the attacks last week. The medical aid group said it treated 125 women and girls who were raped, beaten and brutalized in South Sudan's Rubkona County between November 19-29.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the South Sudan In Focus radio program.