(Reuters) – Rape and other forms of sexual violence by all sides in South Sudan’s civil war have become so widespread that a 2-year-old child was among the victims, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in armed conflict said on Monday.
“In my 30 years of experience, I’ve never witnessed anything like what I saw in Bentiu,” Zainab Hawa Bangura told reporters about a recent trip to the northern town, one of South Sudan’s regions worst hit by the conflict.
“The IDPs (internally displaced persons) seeking refuge there face a combination of … insecurity, unimaginable living conditions, acute day-to-day protection concerns and rampant sexual violence,” she told reporters.
Fighting erupted in December in South Sudan – which declared independence from Sudan in 2011 – after months of political tension between President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy and political rival, Riek Machar. Peace talks brokered by African regional bloc IGAD have yet to bring an end to the bloodshed.
“Survivors and health care workers told me heartbreaking stories of rape, gang rape, abduction, sexual slavery and forced marriage,” Bangura said. “Those who try to fight back against their attackers are often raped with objects instead. Some victims have even been raped to death.”
She said the victims included women, men, girls and boys, with 74 percent of them below the age of 18, according to South Sudanese hospital officials.
“The youngest victim they have treated is 2 years old,” Bangura said.
She said both sides in the conflict have committed sexual violence, adding that orders had been given within the military forces to perpetrate rapes on the basis of ethnicity.