South Sudan: Amnesty International reports ‘thousands in mental distress after Sexual violence on a massive scale’

Amnesty International has released a new report this week in which it reveals that thousands of South Sudanese women and girls, and some men, are battling mental distress and stigma, after having been raped in ethnically-charged sexual attacks in the ongoing conflict.

The report, “Do not remain silent”: Survivors of Sexual violence in South Sudan call for justice and reparations, is the result of a joint research project between Amnesty International and 10 South Sudanese human rights defenders who cannot be named due to fear of reprisals.

According to the report, perpetrators come from both sides of the conflict, pitting the government forces of President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, against opposition forces of Riek Machar, a Nuer, and their respective allied armed groups.

“This is pre-meditated sexual violence on a massive scale. Women have been gang-raped, sexually assaulted with sticks and mutilated with knives.” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“These indefensible acts have left the victims with debilitating and life-changing consequences, including physical injuries and psychological distress. Many survivors have also been shunned by their husbands and in-laws and stigmatized by the wider community.”

Amnesty International’s researchers interviewed 168 victims of sexual violence including 16 men, in cities, towns and villages across four states in South Sudan – Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity – as well as in three refugee settlements in northern Uganda. In some cases, the attackers killed the women after they had raped them.

Many victims are now suffering common symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – nightmares, loss of memory, lack of concentration, and many had thoughts of revenge or suicide.

Christians and church-goers haven’t been exempt from these brutal acts. One young woman who has been named Nyagai in Amnesty’s report,(name changed for security) was gang-raped by government soldiers in Juba in July 2016. She told how she stopped going to church and does not pray anymore. “Satan went through me the day I was raped,” she said.

Many of the victims were targeted because of their political allegiance to either the government or the opposition.

In most cases Amnesty International documented, Dinka men attacked Nuer women and Nuer men attacked Dinka women. But there are also cases, as in Unity State, where pro-government Nuer men have raped Nuer women they consider pro-opposition. In other cases, government forces have targeted women from non-Nuer communities.

Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes is Muthoni Wanyeki. He concluded: “The South Sudanese government must take deliberate measures to halt this epidemic of sexual violence, starting by sending a clear message of zero tolerance, immediately ordering an independent and effective investigation into the attacks that have taken place and ensuring that those responsible are held to account in fair trials.”  “It must also deter sexual violence, including through removing suspects from the armed forces until allegations against them are independently verified or dismissed. Victims must be provided with justice, medical care and reparations.”

“Opposition forces must prohibit sexual violence in their ranks as well, put in place robust mechanisms to monitor the conduct of their fighters, and cooperate with all investigations and prosecutions of their members under international law.”

It’s very clear that many victims have been left severely scarred, both mentally and physically. They also have the added stress of having had to leave their homes to seek refuge elsewhere. Understandably, even many Christians like Nyagai whom we’ve mentioned, have been left feeling contaminated by Satan, and are struggling with their faith. They cannot simply continue going to church as if nothing had happened. Please pray that through time they will be restored and delivered. May they know that ‘nothing can separate them from the love of God’. (Romans 8: 35 – 38).

Ray Barnett (centre) on a recent trip to the Adjumani refugee camp in Northern Uganda, visiting with long time friends, Gary and Louise Short, who run programmes for refugees there.

Ray Barnett has recently visited Adjumani Refugee Camp in Northern Uganda, which has had to accommodate more than 170,000 refugees from South Sudan.The involvement of Friends In The West and Ray Barnett in Southern Sudan stretches back decades, long before the South became an independent country.

Ray has Christian friends and contacts from way back, some of whom are now carrying out mission work among the refugees in Uganda. Friends In The West is currently supporting projects there and we’re currently collating reports which will be shared in the near future.

Please return soon for updates, but please also consider making a donation since the need is great and Christians in the Adjumani camp need to know that their brothers and sisters in the West, care about the plight they’re in.