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US Diplomat Decries Spike in Sexual Assaults in S. Sudan

Some of the more than 30,000 Nuer civilians sheltering in a U.N. base in South Sudan's capital, Juba, for fear of targeted killings by government forces walk by an armored vehicle and a watchtower manned by Chinese peacekeepers, July 25, 2016.

South Sudan is "poised on the brink of an abyss,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council on Thursday after a new wave of sexual violence in the country.

U.N. human rights officials have reported at least 120 rapes in the country over the past three weeks.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that U.N. peacekeepers stood by as women and girls seeking shelter at a U.N. protection-of-civilians site in Juba were raped by government soldiers not far from the camp’s perimeter. The women and girls had been venturing outside the camp to get food.

The report cited witnesses and civilian leaders who said South Sudanese government soldiers had raped dozens of ethnic Nuer women and girls last week just outside the camp, while armed peacekeepers watched.

If peacekeepers failed to protect the women as reported, the U.N. said, there will be “serious repercussions.”

Power condemns leaders

At the Security Council meeting, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power blamed South Sudan’s leaders for wasting money on fighting rather than building the nation.

“The international community has spent billions of dollars trying to avert a famine in the country," Powers said, adding that the conflict in South Sudan had contributed to malnutrition in the country. "If not for this man-made conflict, that money could have been dedicated to building roads, economic development, girls' education, boys' education. It’s a waste, and yet we have to continue to mobilize resources to keep this long-suffering population living with some basic dignity.”

Power said the U.S. had invested heavily in South Sudan’s future by establishing the U.S. Mission in South Sudan in 2011, which helped at all levels in economic development, reformation of the security sector and promotion of human rights.

“South Sudan’s leaders have failed to live up to their end of the deal,” Power told Security Council members.

South Sudan’s leaders must demonstrate a political will and carry out tough reforms as laid out in the August peace agreement, Power said. She pointed to “gruesome atrocities being committed daily: civilians targeted and killed, women raped, homes looted and destroyed.” She said both government and opposition-affiliated soldiers had been implicated in these horrors, and yet there has been no effort to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Power said the council and the international community must come together around the single mission of ending the violence in South Sudan and preventing its recurrence.