South Sudanese women bear brunt of country's crisis
HRW says women and girls are bearing brunt of brutal offensive as 'fighters target them for rape, abduction, beatings and forced labor'

South Sudan was hopeful and upbeat four years ago after attaining independence and a place they can call home, but women and children are now bearing the brunt of the violence that has gripped the country since December 2013.

Christine Chol has been holed up in a UN camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in the capital Juba for the last 19 months.

Hope for a bright future for her and her three children is fading as the crisis continues to rage in South Sudan.

"Life is so difficult and I cannot even go out to look for water,” she says, echoing the fears of many women who have been caught up in the country’s political crisis and forced to seek refuge in IDP settlements.

Women have particularly suffered as targets of rape, torture and death when caught up in offensives.

A falling out between sacked Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir erupted into clashes between opposing sides on Dec. 15, 2013, with Machar violently rebelling against Kiir’s government.

Tens of thousands of people have been estimated to have been killed and two million have been displaced.

Aid agencies estimate that 8 million people are going hungry and 4.6 million are expected to face severe hunger by the end of July.

Women are reported to have been targeted in particular during recent offensives from April to June this year.

In a 42-page report released on July 22, Human Rights Watch said it documented 63 cases of rape, including gang rapes and cases in which women were raped by multiple fighters.

The report added that government soldiers and pro-government militias from the Bul Nuer ethnic group "frequently beat women, sometimes repeatedly and threatened them with death.”

"Women and girls are bearing the brunt of this brutal offensive as fighters target them for rape, abduction, beatings, and forced labor,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The UN settlement in Juba is home to 28,663 IDPs, the majority of whom are women and children.

Chol said she and her fellow women in the IDP settlement face poor health and maternity care, and lack of food for their children and themselves.

She said that when she tried to access her home last year in Gudele, on the outskirts of Juba, she was assaulted by soldiers who were occupying her house.

"It is a difficult situation. We want to go out and begin our life there again, but we cannot,” she said. "I hope to go back home if there is peace, but again our homes have also been taken over by our enemies and some have been destroyed.”

Visiting United Nations Humanitarian Aid Chief Stephen O’Brien told reporters in Juba while touring the IDP settlement this month that there is need to persuade the government and rebels of the urgent need for peace in order to relieve the affected communities.

"I have been able to meet the women who so often have to carry the burden of this terrible challenge in order to survive with their children,” O’Brien said. "I have been able to learn from them what it is like to escape from the violence and come to a place of safety.”

O’Brien said the best case scenario was naturally an end to the fighting and for the people of South Sudan to live in peace.

"In the meantime, we have to find a way to protect civilians,” he said. "There are so many women, children and young boys, all of them very vulnerable.”

Last Modified: 2015-07-31 09:48:05
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