Tuesday 29 September, 2015
Women held as sex slaves in South Sudan camps
Feature: The abduction of women and girls as sex slaves is a disturbing new feature of South Sudan's 21-month conflict, already characterised by well-documented human rights abuses.
One woman was abducted by soldiers and taken to a military camp, tied up and raped repeatedly for two months.
Another was kidnapped with her 15-year-old sister and raped every night for five nights.
A third was taken to a forest with her 12-year-old daughter, where both were raped.
The abduction of women and girls for use as sex slaves - some of them held indefinitely, tied up with hundreds of others in secret rape camps – is a disturbing new aspect of South Sudan's 21-month conflict, already characterised by well-documented war crimes and human rights abuses.
Nigeria's "Chibok girls", abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014, and Iraq's Yazidi women, taken as sex slaves by the Islamic State group are well-known.
But the plight of perhaps thousands of South Sudanese women and girls from just a single state, abducted and subjected to repeated, brutal rape and slave-like working conditions has remained hidden until now.
Systematic abduction and rape
Nyabena's experience is typical. The 30-year old mother was seized when soldiers attacked her village in Rubkona County in April.
Men and boys were shot. Homes were looted and burned to the ground. Women and girls were rounded up.
She was among 40 taken from two neighbouring settlements and wells up with tears when she talks about being torn away from her five children.
They were marched to Mayom County. Nyabena was held in Kotong, a stronghold of Major-General Matthew Puljang, commander of a tribal Bul Nuer militia aligned with South Sudan's army, the SPLA, which has been battling rebels since December 2013.
From April to July this year the SPLA and Puljang's militia carried out an offensive that United Nations investigators described as a "scorched earth policy" in an August report.
Fighting and flooding limits access to large parts of South Sudan, leading aid workers to refer to southern Unity State as "an information black-hole".
A human rights investigator said "Nobody knows what's happening in Mayom County," where many of the women were taken.
One military expert estimated that "thousands of women" were abducted during the offensive.
"In all the southern Unity counties it's been the same: those women who escape are lucky. Those who don't are raped and abducted or killed," said the rights investigator.
"The abduction of women seems to be systematic. It might be for a day, or longer, or forever."
Those who escaped recount their stories with numb, quiet voices. Nightmares plague some who wake up terrorised, thinking they are still captive.
After her abduction Nyabena was put to work during the day, carrying looted goods and food, collecting water and hoeing farms. She was guarded constantly during the day and tied up at night with other women.
"When one of the soldiers wanted to have sex he would come, untie us and take us away. When they were finished they would bring you back and tie you to the post again," she said, stretching her elbows behind her back to show how she was bound. She said being raped by four men a night was common.
Women who refused to work or fought against their rape would disappear. "In the morning we discover they are missing," she said. Of the 40 she arrived with in April, 10 disappeared this way.
Victims as young as 12
Nyamai, a 38-year old mother of five, was taken from her village in Koch County. She was guarded constantly and tied up frequently. As many as 10 soldiers would queue up at night for their turn raping her.
"Please, let one guy deal with me, don't come all of you," she pleaded, and was beaten with a stick in response.
In another case, three of Nyatuach's unmarried, teenaged daughters were abducted in May during an attack on their village in Rubkona County.
Two are still missing, but her 17-year old daughter escaped with three of her nieces.
They returned "very sick, very thin".
"Their bodies were weak and they were leaking fluids from so many men having intercourse with them," Nyatuach said, a common symptom of fistula, an incontinence-causing tear in the wall between the vagina and bladder or rectum, that can be caused by particularly violent rape.
Others were raped repeatedly until, bleeding and unable to take any more, they were set free, or killed.
"When the girls were broken they would dispose of them," said Nyatuach.
Rebecca found her 12-year old daughter again the day after their village in Koch County was attacked.
"When they took me, those people used me," the girl told her mother. Rebecca boiled some water and washed her daughter with hot cloths.
"We can do nothing," she told her. "It's like that."
~ London ~ Monday 28 September 2015
South Sudan: women and girls raped as wages for government-allied fighters
Testimony reveals systematic abduction and abuse of thousands of women and girls as young as 12, held in rape camps across Unity state
A boy plays in a vandalised car as women wait for food aid in Bentiu town, capital of South Sudans Unity state. (Hannah McNeish)
By Hannah McNeish in Bentiu
The testimony from dozens of people working in Bentiu, the capital of South Sudans Unity state, points to the systematic abduction and abuse of women as a form of wages for forces allied to the government. The worst atrocities have led more than 110,000 people to seek safety at a UN base in the town.
Their pay is what they loot and the women they abduct, said one military expert based in Bentiu, who was not authorised to speak but said he had heard of women being taken to the militia-stronghold of Mankien in Mayom, as well as into the cattle camps.
He believes that, across the state, maybe thousands of women have been made wives or slaves by government-allied forces recruited by county leaders to help the army take back territory from rebels in brutal offensives between April and September.
*Nyabol was abducted from her village in Rubkona county in April with 19 others. For two months, she was tied to a post with no shade by day and abused by soldiers at night, in a militia base called Kotong.
When one of the soldiers wanted to have sex with one of us, he would come and untie us, take us away then bring us back to tie up, said Nyabol, shaking at the memory. Between rapes, the women were tied up next to beds made of cardboard boxes, with no mosquito nets.
Ethnic fighting was sparked in 2013 by South Sudans rival leaders, President Salva Kiir from the main Dinka group and his former deputy Riek Machar a Nuer. In recent months, the government has recruited militias and young men from Nuer sub-clans in Unity state to take back rebel-held areas.
The military expert said that, through county commissioners, Bul Nuer and Jikany Nuer youths had been given guns, and their pay is what they can loot. Women who were abducted say some of the husbands forced on them spoke the Nuer language, others Dinka.
A young girl eats porridge in a sweltering hot shipping container in Bentiu. (Hannah McNeish)
One South Sudan rights researcher who spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation said the Unity state counter-offensives were marked by a lot of abduction accompanying the rape cases, adding that Mayom was the key destination for those abducted.
Youth are being mobilised. Its not just a cattle raid, said the researcher, referring to clashes between cattle herders that have been a feature of the conflict. [The war has] taken a different turn this year.
During April-September government offensives, at least 1,000 civilians were killed, 1,300 women and girls were raped, and 1,600 women and children were abducted in Leer, Mayendit and Koch counties, according to estimates in a recent circular to charities working on civilian protection.
In Kotong, home to the forces of Bul Nuer rebel-turned-government ally Mathew Puljang, disobedient wives would vanish at night.
Nyabol said: In our group there were 40 women who went together for work. Among them, 10 were taken one by one and I never saw them again. I didnt sleep at night. I was just crying, afraid that they would kill me. Even now, I have nightmares that I am still in Mayom.
Nyabol, a widow, said she had feared she would never see the one-month-old baby she had left behind again. The injuries, the beating you [dont] know if [the violence] will kill you or if it will be a disease, she said.
She managed to escape after a soldier and former bodyguard of her late husband recognised her and escorted her as she went to fetch water, and told her to run.
The rest of her story fits a familiar narrative. Armed men came to the village, shot the men and boys sometimes castrating the latter raped the women and took all household items before burning all the huts, some with elderly people locked inside. They searched for girls and the women they considered most beautiful, forced them to show them where the cows were and then ordered them to carry away the looted property.
Nyabol and 19 others were taken from their homes to Wankai, in Mayom county, where women, girls and cows were distributed among men who led them and the animals off in different directions. Several women who were interviewed named Wankai as a transit centre. One said between 200 and 300 women and girls had been there while others said there were too many to count.
Another place that cropped up in interviews more than once was Rier, in Koch county. This is where men commanded by local leaders raped Nyaruach, 38, and her 12-year-old daughter overnight in a forest, Nyaruach said.
She managed to escape during a toilet break and found her daughter the next day, who said two men had used her before deciding that she was too small.
She was bleeding when I found her so we boiled some water and washed her with hot cloths. She was crying. It left me feeling so bad, I want to leave this country, Nyaruach said.
Nyabena, from Nhialdiu in Rubkona county, ran to the bush before the men caught her. But she spoke about the grim fate of Nyagai, 20, a recently married women who was considered a real beauty.
So many men wanted to rape her, said Nyabena, that when a second group of men queued up to abuse her, Nyagai could not stand it. When she refused any more, they just killed her, she said.
Unity states acting governor, Stephen Taker, and his consorts laughed off questions about whether government and allied forces had abducted women. They accuse the government for nothing. Its not true, said Taker, who also refuted rights reports documenting rapes of women and the theft of cows in tit-for-tat cattle raids.
Skye Wheeler, South Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: In our research, we found a staggering preponderance of rape including terrifying gang rapes, as well as beatings and abductions in numerous villages.
According to the military expert, the extremely high culture of revenge that is prevalent in South Sudan is going to be another challenge for South Sudan, despite the recent government-brokered peace deal with the weakened rebels.
If you look at the level of anger against Bul Nuer in Unity state, its something the government and the international community are going to deal with for many, many, many years, he said.
Some survivors were wishing death on the these men, he said, while others just wanted their daughters, cousins, aunts and nieces to be brought back.
* Some names have been changed to protect identities.