JUBA, Since the start of the conflict in South Sudan in 2013, widespread and systematic sexual violence has been used as a pervasive tactic of war and terror, says a high-level United Nations envoy after visiting the war-torn country and hearing horrific testimonies.

Pramila Patten, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence and Conflict, told the media she had been alarmed to hear about the increasing climate of intimidation in which civil society organizations work, including attacks against those providing services to sexual violence survivors.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been wracked by violence and humanitarian crisis since late 2013, following a descent into factional fighting between forces loyal to the President and then Vice-President.

As part of a joint UN�African Union (AU) visit to South Sudan, led by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed from July 3 to 7, Patten met government officials and religious leaders, among others. She toured sites protecting displaced civilians in Malakal and around the capital, Juba, and spoke with survivors of sexual violence, who continue to live in acutely vulnerable situations.

The testimonies I heard were horrific: men being systematically killed, the elderly and sick being burned alive, the genitals of young boys being mutilated or cut off, and women and girls being gang-raped — often to death, she said.

In this context, sexual violence serves as a lethal tactic of war and a ‘push factor’ for forced displacement.

Patten spoke to women in the protection camps who lamented the lack of food, health services and opportunities to make a living for themselves and their families. The main hope and desire of these women was the desire for peace, she stated.

Although the women walk in groups collecting firewood to reduce attack risks, they need to venture beyond camp, still frequently assaulted by soldiers lurking in the high grass. Yet, they have few alternatives, as they cannot ask male community members for help.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) released a report on Tuesday revealing indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Southern Unity State in which at least 120 women and girls, some as young as four-years-old, were raped and gang-raped by the army and associated forces in Koch and Leer county.

Witnesses indicate that those who resisted rape were shot. The report further documented 15 incidents of abduction involving at least 132 women and girls, for the purposes of sexual slavery and forced labour.

Source: Nam News Network