JUBA, South Sudan — At least 125 women and girls seeking food aid were raped, whipped and clubbed over 10 days this month in attacks described as “abhorrent” even amid the widespread sexual violence of South Sudan’s civil war, according to Doctors Without Borders.
The medical charity said on Saturday that the “dramatic increase” in sexual violence occurred between Nov. 19 and Thursday, as the women and girls were walking to a food distribution site in Bentiu in Unity State. In contrast, the group’s Bentiu clinic treated 104 survivors of sexual assault in the first 10 months of this year.The United Nations mission chief in the country, David Shearer, said the “abhorrent” attacks were carried out by young men in military uniforms and civilian clothing.
The international agency has increased patrols in the area and has begun an investigation while urging the authorities to hold the attackers accountable.Sexual violence has been weaponized in South Sudan’s civil war, and even under a recent peace deal, humanitarian groups have warned of higher rates of sexual assault as growing numbers of desperate people try to get aid.Ruth Okello, a midwife with Doctors Without Borders who treated some of the survivors, said those targeted included pregnant and older women, and girls as young as 10 years old.“What is happening since last week is indescribable,”
Ms. Okello said. “I haven’t got words for it.”.The women were robbed of clothing and shoes, and even their ration cards for food distribution were seized and destroyed, the aid group said.South Sudan’s government was not immediately available to comment. But the state minister for information in Northern Liech State, where the attacks were reported, disputed the reports.“A rape of such a magnitude is not true,” the minister, Lam Tungwar, told Reuters. He said the state “respects human rights, and women’s rights top our list.”The international body charged with monitoring the peace deal’s implementation said on Saturday that it had opened an investigation into the reports.
The United Nation’s World Food Program said distribution was underway in Bentiu for displaced people, and it was looking into whether it could move distribution sites closer to communities in the area.A panel of experts monitoring sanctions on South Sudan for the United Nations said in a new report that they remained “extremely concerned” about the high level of conflict-related sexual violence, despite the peace deal signed in September.