346 views | Akanimo Sampson | April 7, 2021
Women and girls have been frequently abducted in Jonglei, South Sudan because of their economic importance in demanding a bride price paid in the form of cattle, the UN Mission said in a statement.
“The UN Mission believes that as many as 686 women and children were abducted during the clashes that took place between January and August of last year”, Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told journalists at the regular daily briefing.
“Tragically, these abductions often involve sexual violence”, he added.
After a recent peace conference in Pieri, where traditional leaders, women and so-called “cattle camp” leaders had discussed compensation for lives lost, and the return of abducted women and children, UNMISS said that UN helicopters had helped transport the freed women and children so they could be reunited with their families.
Those abducted and freed, are receiving support from Save the Children, and local NGOs Grassroots Empowerment and Development Organisation (GREDO) and the Community Action Organisation (CAO).
Fifty-eight women and children of more than 600 who were abducted last year during vicious inter-communal fighting in the troubled country, have been reunited with their families, the UN Spokesperson
Since December, the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, has been working with agencies, supported by the United States and the United Kingdom, to broker peace between the Lou Nuer, Murle and Dinka Bor ethnic groups.
The exchange came about following a community-led peace, negotiated in Jonglei State between the three communities.
As at December 2018, just a few months after the country’s top two politicians signed a renewed commitment to peace, widespread and systematic sexual violence across South Sudan, was at the top of the UN Commission on Human Rights in the country’s agenda as members ended their first fact-finding mission.
The three-person team investigating rights violations in the world’s youngest country, which has been mired in bloody civil conflict since 2013, arrived on the ground shortly after more than 150 women and girls were reportedly sexually assaulted in the northern town of Bentiu.
“The viciousness of these horrific attacks in Bentiu on so many women, is shocking, given that these atrocious acts occurred just as people’s hopes for an end to violence are starting to surface following the peace deal,” Commissioner from Uganda, Barney Afako, stated. He added that “accountability must now follow.”
The Commission is investigating these violations and will report its findings to the Human Rights Council in March. Government officials also said they were investigating the Bentiu attacks, saying they would share and corroborate their findings with the Commission.
More than 65 per cent of women and girls in South Sudan have reportedly experienced sexual violence at least once in their lives. Given the endemic impunity to the widespread and systematic use of sexual violence by the country’s warring parties, accountability has been a core element of the Commission’s work.
Commissioners stated their hope that South Sudan’s leaders can now seize the opportunity provided by the Revitalized Peace Agreement for Resolution of the Conflict, signed on 12 September, to stem the violence, ensure accountability, restore peace and assist the countless victims to rebuild their lives.
Since it was formed in March 2016, the Human Rights Council-mandated Commission’s has been six times to the region.
So far this month, Commissioners have visited South Sudan, Sudan and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From December 15-19, Afako will travel to refugee camps in Uganda where some 785,000 South Sudanese are settled.
Among other things, this visit aims to look first-hand at how the June Peace Agreement, brokered by the regional development body (IGAD) with the support of the UN and African Union (AU), was taking hold, particularly focussing on the conflict’s countless victims.
Supported by a team of investigators and researchers based in Juba, they are also gauging how the more than four million South Sudanese displaced by the brutal war can be returned and recompensed.
“Everybody we spoke with during our visit expressed hope that the agreement will lead to durable and sustainable peace,” observed Commission Chair, Yasmin Sooka, who hails from South Africa. “Most South Sudanese are desperate to return to normal life and put the conflict behind them once and for all, yet they want to ensure that the conditions are right so they can live free of fear and want.”
During meetings with the Government, the Commission also raised the need to improve the status of women in in the country, citing the case of a South Sudanese girl whose virginity was publicly auctioned off to the highest bidder, reportedly including a post on the Facebook platform.
“A holistic transitional justice programme will provide South Sudan a vital opportunity to address the status of women,” maintained Ms. Sooka.
In line with their mandate, the Commission is also collecting and preserving evidence to combat impunity, and, as such, is assisting with a future Hybrid Court, as laid out in Chapter Five of the Peace Agreement.
“Many of those we spoke with stressed that establishing the Hybrid Court, together with the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, and the Compensation and Reparation Authority, could help contribute to stabilising the country,” Commissioner, from the UK, Andrew Clapham said. “This would certainly send a strong signal to those who have suffered violations in connection with the conflict.”
Prevent ‘cycle of revenge’
Noting that “abductions are a horrific aspect of conflict in this area”, UNMISS chief and UN Special Representative for the country, David Shearer, said that the agreement to release the abducted women and children, “is an essential step to build trust and avoid the cycle of revenge”.
The UN mission said that this is the first part of a coordinated programme supported by the UN’s Reconciliation, Stabilisation and Resilience Trust Fund to tackle the underlying drivers of conflict between communities that have plagued the Jonglei region for years.
“We are supporting efforts for the return of the remaining women and children”, concluded Mr. Dujarric.