Charlotte Kissick-Jones is a second year studying English at KCL and one of the Clandestine’s Current Events Reporters. In this piece she takes a break from her investigative work and dives into the use of rape as a weapon of war in South Sudan.
[Featured Image: The United Nations Security Council committee room.]
Gender-based sexual violence in South Sudan has been applied as a weapon of war between both conflicting groups since the beginning of the first civil war in 1962. Often referred to as ‘war rape’, sexual violence in conflict is a military or political strategy in its own right. The long-lasting consequences of sexual abuse include psychological damage and life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS. The emotional, mental and physical devastation created is why war-time rape is viewed as such an effective weapon in breaking down social and legal structures.
Subsequently, it is important for the perpetrators, and international community, to view sexual violence as an active military strategy rather than by-product of war. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women observes that ‘violence against women is a social problem and not a private problem of each individual woman or family’. These actions of gendered sexual violence violate Article 3, Article 5 and Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as breaching many other human rights conventions. Through recognising the damage caused by this human rights abuse there can be movement away from the state’s discretion and instead towards the implementation of international mechanisms. This means viewing sexual violence at the same priority level as arms dealing, thus those who are authorising the attacks share responsibility and should face legal consequences. Despite the conflict in South Sudan being formally resolved, this human rights violation has still not been prioritised within the government as a weapon of war.
The members of the UN Security Council have called upon the leaders of South Sudan to condemn the sexual attacks and ensure a full investigation is carried out to prevent further attacks. However, since this there has been a 61% increase in gender-based violence between 2015 and 2016, according to Amnesty International. This absence of prioritisation to sexual abuse cases can be witnessed as a consequence of the vulnerability of South Sudan’s political structure since the ending of the conflict. Politics have become non-inclusive and the insecurity of the government has led to growing number of rebel groups. With the main sexual perpetrators being governmental figures and members of the military, political corruption is a main driver of the abuses faced by women. This has subsequently weakened the legal system, and the cases of prosecuted perpetrators is minimal. The economic disaster faced has contributed to this instability, with inflation standing at more than 300% per annum. This leaves women at a vulnerable socio-economic position, a point emphasised further by the case of over 150 women being subject to sexual violence in December 2018 due to travelling to food distribution centres.
Violence against women is a clear consequence of an established gender inequality, rooted within the social, political and economic structures of South Sudan. The normalisation of sexual violence against women can firstly be challenged through education; the United Mission of South Sudan released a statement in February of 2019 recognising that education is the best way to free the South Sudanese women from gender-based violence and discrimination. The priority of securing the socio-economic standing of the South Sudanese women will provide livelihood stability and enhance their future opportunities. Second to this, legal enforcement is necessary in condemning the past attacks and threatening future perpetrators. International pressure has seen to be the most effective, with the Terrain Case granting jail sentences to ten soldiers for rape and sexual harassment. A Hybrid Court, a court combing both national and international aspects, was posed in the ‘Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan’ signed in August of 2015; establishing this within the next few years is the best hope for ensuring legal reprimands. This will additionally enable the ‘Agreement’ to regain legitimacy for change and subsequent peace. It is vital to force a clear message upon perpetrators of violence that their actions will be published according to the law for the horrific violation of these human rights.