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South Sudan National Security Agents Accused of Rape, Arbitrary Arrests

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 new report released by South Sudan's Human Rights Commission says national security operatives continue to rape women and girls and arbitrarily arrest and detain people across the country.

The 53-page report, released Wednesday, also states that most victims of human rights abuses have no access to justice.

The report details human rights violations and atrocities committed by security agents and other armed forces during the past two years.

Critics say the commission must do more than simply issue reports and, instead, should regularly monitor and keep track of human rights violations and follow up to make sure the perpetrators are arrested.

Gang rapes prevalent

Nyol Justine Yaac, acting chairman of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission, said one of the things the commission found most disturbing is that nearly every reported case of rape was a gang rape.

"All the complaints that have come, no rape was carried out by one person. It's always two people, three people, four people, it's a group. And they are willing to protect whoever did that," Yaac told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

Yaac said the commission documented more than 200 cases of women and girls being raped by soldiers or men in uniform between 2016 and 2017.

"I think cases of rape have diminished, but we have started to witness more cases of rape from the areas of Kator Gudele," in the southern part of the country, said Yaac.

The commission recommended a special court be established to try rape suspects.

The report also indicates ethnic undertones in the latest wave of violence that broke out in July 2016. It said government forces and SPLA-IO rebels led by former First Vice President Riek Machar were guilty of targeting civilians in parts of Equatoria during this second phase of the four-year conflict.

Role of national security

Yaac said the commission has recommended that in the future, only police have the power to arrest or detain civilians.

"This idea of mortgaging every situation of the police to the national security has to stop. If you look in Juba now, security monitoring and everything is being done by the national security," Yaac added.

Christian Mikala, head of the Human Rights Division at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, urged the South Sudan Human Rights Commission to go beyond citing human rights violations in reports.

"UNMISS looks forward to the South Sudan Human Rights Commission being accredited to the global association of the Human Rights Institution," Mikala said at the report's release in Juba. "But to do that, the commission must demonstrate independence, and must report regularly, and must receive individual complaints from members and investigate."

Yaac countered that the commission has been given no funds to monitor human rights conditions across the country, noting some of its offices were closed in 2013 shortly after the conflict began.