Amnesty International released a report on Monday warning of sexual violence “on a massive scale” in South Sudan, leaving thousands to battle “mental distress and stigma with nowhere to turn for help.”
The report describes thousands of acts of sexual violence from both sides in South Sudan’s gruesome four-year civil war. “Women have been gang-raped, sexually assaulted with sticks and mutilated with knives,” said Amnesty International Regional Director for East Africa Muthoni Wanyeki.
Wanyeki noted that, in addition to the physical and mental duress from these attacks, strong social stigmas are directed at survivors, often shunned by their husbands and families. Some of the victims were murdered immediately by their assailants or died later from wounds inflicted during their mutilation. Other survivors spoke of contemplating suicide.
The report also includes sixteen male victims of sexual violence. Some were castrated or “had their testicles pierced with needles.” One of them was burned to death with grass bundles stuffed into his anus. Another, a blind man, was captured and given a choice between rape and death.
Amnesty International adds that 1,130 children have been sexually assaulted in South Sudan over the past four years.
Just about every party to the civil war stands accused of perpetrating sexual violence, from government troops to rebel militia. Refugees from the conflict have been victimized at least as much as civilians caught in the crossfire.
Even the horrifying accounts from the AI report paint an incomplete picture of the catastrophe since, as Aladin Borja of the International Organization for Migration pointed out, survivors are afraid to talk about their experiences. For that matter, the local activists who helped compile the Amnesty International report had to remain anonymous due to fears for their safety.
The violence in South Sudan shows little sign of slowing down. Just over the past few days, eight people were killed in an attack by a mysterious armed group for no reason anyone can come up with; Ugandan warplanes conducted strikes against rebel positions to rescue a trapped unit of government troops; and the United Nations announced it has raised only 30 percent of the $1.4 billion needed to deal with refugees from the conflict, whose terrors include a man-made famine.
As the Sydney Morning Herald observes, many victims of sexual assault are people who wander away from shelters looking for food and supplies, the “distinctive patterns of ritual tribal scarring” on their faces making them easily spotted by hostile tribes.