More than 150 South Sudanese women and girls have come forward in the past 12 days to seek help after they were raped or suffered other forms of sexual violence, the heads of three UN agencies said on Monday.
The three, Henrietta Fore (CEO of the UNICEF), Mark Lowcock (Head of UN OCHA) and Natalia Kanem (Executive Director of UNFPA), said the attacks were carried out near the northern city of Bentiu by armed men, many of whom were in uniforms.
The three agencies condemned “these abhorrent attacks” and called on South Sudan authorities to ensure the perpetrators face justice.
Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, last week said 125 women and girls had been raped while walking to emergency food distribution centres set up by international aid agencies.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks.
“These horrific acts are a distressing reminder of how, despite recent re-commitments by South Sudan’s leaders to a cessation of hostilities and a revitalised peace agreement, the security situation for civilians remains dire, especially for women and children,” Gutteres said in a statement.
The UN chief urged all parties in the South Sudan conflict and leaders of the country to ensure safety of civilians and address impunity for the crimes through investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.
South Sudan has been dogged by war since December 2013, sparked by a feud between President Salva Kiir and his then deputy Riek Machar.
The war has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions others, prompting the UN last year to rank South Sudan as Africa’s biggest refugee crisis, coming third worldwide after Syria and Afghanistan.
A UN panel of experts last month said in a report to the Security Council that there were “alarming levels” of sexual violence and human rights abuses in South Sudan.
The council is due to discuss the crisis in South Sudan on December 18.