Widespread sexual violence, including rape, gang rape and sexual slavery, perpetrated against civilian women and girls has been a hallmark of the ongoing armed conflict in South Sudan. UN and civil society reports have indicated that the commission of sexual offences has become a significant feature of the current conflict, and has been used as a military tactic in all ten states. Actors working on the ground report that government and rebel forces, militias, and unidentified armed men in uniform are involved in the commission of these offences. The May 2014 United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Human Rights Report stated that there is evidence that acts of sexual violence committed in the context of the conflict may amount to crimes against humanity. In its March 2018 report, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan described conflict related sexual violence as “a central feature of the conflict,” noting that “justice for thousands of other victims, including … women raped by SPLA and other security services … has not been delivered.”
Despite the successful negotiation of the ‘Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan,’ sexual violence continues. In November 2018, Médecins Sans Frontières reported that they had provided emergency and psycho-social assistance to 125 women and girls who were raped, beaten and brutalised in Rubkona county, northern South Sudan, in the 10 days between 19 and 29 November 2018, including girls as young as 10 years old and pregnant women.
First Legal Case Lodged Against South Sudanese Government for Gang Rape and Sexual Slavery
On 6 December, Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) submitted the first ever case against the Government of South Sudan for the rape, mass rape and sexual slavery of thirty South Sudanese women and girls by members of the South Sudan army (currently known as the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and formerly the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)) and the Presidential Guard – known as the Tiger Battalion. The case was lodged at the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva. “The conflict in South Sudan has been ongoing for five years and during this time tens of thousands of young girls and women have been subjected to horrific sexual violence by Government security forces. To date almost no one has been held accountable. We have to ask ourselves: Why are we not doing more to protect them?” said Antonia Mulvey, Executive Director of LAW. “This is a landmark case which is the first step on a long road to justice for all women and girls in South Sudan.”
Roundtable on Accountability
In November 2018, Legal Action Worldwide, in partnership with Amnesty International, convened a closed roundtable bringing together experts, who have been engaging in efforts that support accountability in South Sudan. This meeting allowed participants to discuss creative legal solutions for securing redress for survivors and victims of serious human rights violations and abuses occurring in South Sudan. At the close of the roundtable, practical actions were agreed on for moving the discourse forward. Participants also committed to continued engagement at the national, regional and international fora to ensure justice is a key priority even as the new government settles into the agreed governing structure set out by the re-vitalised peace agreement signed in 2018.
Report on accountability for sexual violence by armed men
LAW’s 2016 report, Increasing Accountability of Armed Men for Sexual Violence in South Sudan, was described as a “must read” by Andrew Hudson, Executive Director of Crisis Action. The report launch in Nairobi attracted international media attention.
On 19 May 2016, LAW held an expert panel on accountability for sexual gender based violence (SGBV) in South Sudan to launch the report along with the South Sudan Law Society and Amnesty International. Panellists included: David Deng, (South Sudan Law Society), Ferdinand Von Habsburg-Lothringen, (Committee for National Healing, Peace and Reconciliation), Elizabeth Deng, (Amnesty International) and Alicia Luedke, (Justice Africa). LAW’s Executive Director Antonia Mulvey moderated the panel discussion, which highlighted several ways forward for increasing accountability in South Sudan. These coalesced around five key themes:
The event was well attended by members of civil society as well as local and international media. Reporting on the launch, in Nairobi on 19 May 2016, Voice of America noted: “South Sudan currently lacks a formal justice system that is accessible to the wider population. Traditional justice systems may function in conflict zones, but they are ill-equipped to handle sexual violence cases, which are often perceived as communal, not individual issues. And they are unable to hold government, rebel or security forces to account, according to Antonia Mulvey, executive director of Legal Action Worldwide.”
Turkish news website Haberler also quoted LAW’s executive director, Antonia Mulvey: “Men in uniform, either the military or the militia, were the highest perpetrators. The report does not only look at what the problem is but whether we can find and identify other solutions… We look at whether there can be other avenues for legal redress outside of South Sudan to give the survivors some opportunity to access justice.”
Women, Peace & Security
LAW will shortly begin an exciting new project that seeks to ensure the UN Security Council Women, Peace & Security Agenda, (UNSC Resolution 1325) is fully incorporated into South Sudan’s peace process and that women and girls, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, can effectively participate.
LAW and its consortium partners will empower South Sudanese women to engage with transitional justice mechanisms, and to reduce impunity for conflict-related sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). This will be done through a comprehensive approach, including:
Gathering feedback from South Sudanese civilians about what the transitional justice process should look like, with an emphasis on the inclusion of the voices of women;
Developing transitional justice legislation that responds to these priorities;
Increasing the capacity of those charged with establishing transitional justice mechanisms and building a specialised skillset for dealing with survivors of torture and trauma;
Advocating for the inclusion of women in both community conversations and high level negotiations on transitional justice;
Working with lawyers and activists to collect evidence of ongoing human rights violations to a high standard, with a particular focus on SGBV.