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Several Women Were Raped By South Sudan's Soldiers And The UN, US Didn't Do Anything To Help

A staggering number of South Sudanese women were assaulted in less than three weeks after fighting broke out last month.

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Several humanitarian workers were raped by South Sudanese soldiers during fighting last month.

The Associated Press's Jason Patinkin reported that multiple women were gang-raped, one by 15 soldiers.

The attack on the women happened at a "safe house" on July 11, three days after fighting erupted between the army forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and the bodyguards of Riek Machar, an opposition leader and the then–vice president.

The soldiers from the South Sudan army were celebrating their victory by beating and robbing people, the AP said.

In the safe house, they executed one South Sudanese journalist because of his ethnic identity, beat many others, and threatened to kill foreigners "to show the world by example," one survivor remembered the soldiers saying.

"One in particular, he was calling you, 'Sweetie, we should run away and get married.' It was like he was on a first date," one survivor said. "He didn't see that what he was doing was a bad thing."

One woman had been told by her organization's security officers that she would be safe because she was a foreigner. "This sentence — 'We are not targeted' — I heard half an hour before they assaulted us," she told the AP.

A Human Rights Watch report released on Monday documented extensive killings, lootings, and rapes in the July violence and its aftermath. Some killings targeted certain South Sudanese because of their ethnicity, it said.

UN peacekeepers did not respond to calls for help.

Jason Patinkin / AP

At least two calls were made to the UN from Terrain, the compound where the women were attacked, while the attack was ongoing.

"All of us were contacting whoever we could contact," said the woman raped by 15 men. "The UN, the US Embassy, contacting the specific battalions in the UN, contacting specific departments."

The AP reported:

"A member of the U.N.'s Joint Operations Center in Juba first received word of the attack at 3:37 p.m., minutes after the breach of the compound, according to an internal timeline compiled by a member of the operations center and seen by AP.

"Eight minutes later another message was sent to a different member of the operations center from a person inside Terrain saying that people were hiding there. At 4:22 p.m., that member received another message urging help.

"Five minutes after that, the U.N. mission's Department of Safety and Security and its military command wing were alerted. At 4:33 p.m., a Quick Reaction Force, meant to intervene in emergencies, was informed. One minute later, the timeline notes the last contact on Monday from someone trapped inside Terrain.

"For the next hour and a half the timeline is blank. At 6:52, shortly before sunset, the timeline states that 'DSS would not send a team.'"

The AP said a private security firm rescued three foreign women the next morning.

The State Department, when asked at Monday's daily press briefing insisted that the US Embassy in Juba "actively responded" to the attack. But that response was limited to Ambassador Molly Phee calling the South Sudanese government and pressing them to send forces to the besieged compound and ensuring those wounded could be airlifted to nearby hospitals.

State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau also refused to confirm that South Sudanese soldiers were involved in the incident, but noted that the assaulters "were armed and wearing uniforms" and that the South Sudanese army controlled the area at the time of the attack.

These are just the latest reports of sexual assault in South Sudan in July. When fighting broke out in the capital just days before the country's independence day, a staggering number of South Sudanese women were assaulted in less than three weeks.

Albert Gonzalez Farran / AFP / Getty Images

In five days of heavy fighting and the weeks of insecurity that followed, at least 217 South Sudanese women were raped in Juba, the capital, according to a UN investigation.

The UN said South Sudanese women from one ethnic group were the major targets — and government soldiers were responsible for the "great majority" of the crimes.

Albert Gonzalez Farran / AFP / Getty Images

It's a pattern that tracks power struggles of the conflict. The Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) answers to Kiir, who is from the Dinka tribe. Machar, who leads the opposition group, and his supporters are from the Nuer tribe.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement earlier this month that a preliminary investigation had found most — not all, but most — sexual assaults were committed by the SPLA against Nuer women and girls who'd been displaced by the July fighting.

Women who tried to find safety in the days and weeks after the fighting were especially vulnerable.

Albert Gonzalez Farran / AFP / Getty Images

Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the UN documented several cases of assault at government checkpoints.

"The women [were] going through government checkpoints and getting stopped and raped, sometimes in groups," he said. "On the 18th of July for example, there was a huge group, 28 women, who were stopped at a SPLA check point and raped, gang raped, and on the same day another 7 women at another checkpoint."

But this is hardly the first time sexual violence has been used against South Sudan's women.

Albert Gonzalez Farran / AFP / Getty Images

The UN and the African Union have independently documented the use of sexual violence by both government and opposition forces as far back as 2014 — which is to say, virtually the beginning of the conflict. But reporting has done little to lessen that form of violence, or to hold its perpetrators accountable.

"One of the huge problems in South Sudan for the past few years is been this chronic immunity, so you had episode after episode of killings and massive numbers of rapes — the situation for women is just appalling," Collier said. "And nothing seems happening about it. People are very often government employees, sometimes are the opposition, but nobody seems to be end up be in court."

Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, said on Monday he was "outraged" by the latest report, which documents more than 200 cases of sexual violence committed in July.

The US has been pushing for more peacekeepers in South Sudan, irritating the government in Juba.

Riek Machar and Salva Kiir (By Jason Patinkin / AP)

South Sudan originally rejected a move by the US at the UN Security Council to add 4,000 more peacekeepers to the UN mission there. But officials indicated yesterday that they might drop their objections if South Sudan can have a say in which countries the soldiers come from and what weapons they bring, among other details.

The South Sudan government's distrust for the UN is high. Officials in Juba have made public statements in recent days indicating that they believe the UN is trying to take over the country. Earlier this month, the government suspended visas-on-arrival for UN workers and peacekeepers.

Survivors of the attack in July told the AP the South Sudanese soldiers also specifically targeted Americans for beating.

One soldier "definitely had pronounced hatred against America," said Philippines citizen Gian Libot, who recalled the man saying: "You messed up this country. You're helping the rebels. The people in the UN, they're helping the rebels."

"One of [the survivors], as soon as he said he was American, he was hit with a rifle butt," a woman told the AP.

Jina Moore is the global women's rights correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Berlin.

Contact Jina Moore at jina.moore@buzzfeed.com.

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