“Perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict situations have to shape up or face prosecution,” says senior UNMISS official
UNMISS Gender Affairs Officer, Ruth Kibiti, says that, “One way or the other, perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict situations have to shape up or face the responsibility of being prosecuted.”
Speaking ahead of the International Day of the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict Situations, Kibiti said that there is a need for army commanders to inform their soldiers that Conflict-Related Sexual Violence is a criminal offense that is punishable by the law of the land and also punishable by international criminal humanitarian law. “They cannot run away from it,” says Kibiti.
19 June of each year is marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict in order to raise awareness on the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence. For a long time, rape and other forms of sexual violence have been deployed systematically and strategically as a weapon of war and it is not a case of a few ‘bad apples’ within armed groups.
Through combined efforts of advocacy and action, UNMISS has been focusing on some of the critical issues highlighted in the Joint Communiqué on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence signed by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and the UN through former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura. Six critical areas of focus include rape, gang rape, forced abortion, forced pregnancy, abduction and early marriage.
UNMISS has provided capacity trainings to the SPLA and South Sudanese National Police Service (SSNPS) to be able to understand that as armed forces of South Sudan, they have the responsibility of protecting citizens. Part of their responsibility is to ensure that the human rights of all citizens are defended and to know that it is an international crime, punishable by the law, to violate the rights of a woman during conflict.
While women are the most victimized, it is important to note that men and boys are increasingly becoming victims of conflict-related sexual violence.
Years after the end of wars, victims of sexual violence remain with permanent scars, both physical and psychological. Victims should be given a voice to tell their stories and perpetrators must not go unpunished. Victims should not feel afraid to come forward, because as it stands, there are many sexual violence cases that go undocumented because of fear of being revictimized. Families and communities should not stigmatize and ostracize the victims, and courts of law should be steadfast in prosecuting those who commit these crimes and their commanders. Impunity cannot be the order of the day.
“UNMISS supports the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals for the inclusion of a range of sexual violence offences in their jurisdiction as war crimes or crimes against humanity as well as their efforts to prosecute these horrific atrocities,” said Kibiti.
Recently in South Sudan, soldiers have appeared before a military court on allegations of mass rape committed in Juba and Kubi village in July 2016 and February 2017 respectively.
“These prosecutions and the sentence will set precedence to deter others from committing conflict-related sexual violence,” said Kibiti. “The entire world is watching on how these cases will be handled.”
To observe the International Day of the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, activities will be held in various UNMISS field offices. For example, training sessions will be held in Wau on accessing justice for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and accessing survivor services in terms of treatment.