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Breaking the silence about sexual gender-based violence in the Unity region

South Sudan
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“People in our area have been accused of those sexual assaults. We will lead the fight and find those who abused our women, says Laraka Machar, Deputy Governor in Northern Liech.

According to the Medicines Sans Frontiers/Doctors without Borders (MSF) report released in November 2018, nearly one hundred and fifty women and girls were sexually assaulted in the Guit and Nhuildhu areas, both located in Northern Liech. These large-scale abuses were perpetrated within just a couple of weeks, targeting women collecting firewood, but other sexual assaults have been reported from other government-controlled villages as well.

In response to these atrocities, community leaders along with military and police commanders have decided implement new ways of protecting civilians and prevent and eradicate sexual violence in the Unity region.

“My advice to our forces is that we must support our government and be responsible for anything that happens in our areas of deployment”, said Brigadier General Kuol Malual from the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) at a seminar arranged to discuss how to address the prevalence of gender-based violence in different forms.

The approximately 30 participants of the two-day event included both high-ranking military and police officers and community leaders from the areas where sexual assaults and other violence aimed at women have been occurring.

“We are all here, and I order our commanders to take appropriate actions and report incidents of sexual violence and bring presumed criminals to justice”, Brigadier General Kuol affirmed.

Community leaders and law enforcement agents demonstrated their will to join hands in their efforts to put an end to gender-based violence.

“We are here to tell the truth”, said Kankui Gatwich community leader from Bimrwork, adding: “Of course, these sexual crimes are often occurring on a low scale, but it is devastating to hear about such severe cases as those reported from Guit and Nhiuldiu. As community leaders, we cannot tolerate these crimes.”

Suzanne Nahimana, a Human Rights Officer serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, also challenged those attending the seminar on other forms of gender-based violence, such as forced and/or early marriages.

“As community leaders, will you bless a marriage of a 13-year-old girl with a man four times her age?”

“No, and [condoning] it is not one of our traditional values”, the audience replied.

Captain David Matut, Police Chief Inspector, concluded that the discussions prompted at the event were productive and useful.

“We receive some allegations related to early marriages and other related domestic sexual violence. It will be very important for me to instruct my officers to embrace the multi-sectoral approach needed to report incidents, apply legal justice, offer psychological support and take other safety measures to defend victims of human rights abuses.”