Bentiu, South Sudan: A rape survivor’s distressing tale; women's desperate pleas

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9 Dec 2018

Bentiu, South Sudan: A rape survivor’s distressing tale; women's desperate pleas

Beatrice Mategwa

At an undisclosed location in South Sudan’s Unity region, a rape survivor narrates her ordeal.

“We were coming back from the town, and on our way, we found people, and these people looted our items. After that, they tied us for eight hours in the bush, and then at 4:00am, they released us,” narrates the 18-year-old mother of two in Nuer language, to a patrol team of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

She, together with another woman, helplessly struggled in the hands of their molesters, she says.

Weak and in pain, they were both helped to a non-functioning hospital nearby after being discovered. At the hospital, they did not receive medical attention immediately.

A few weeks have passed since sexual violence attacks on vulnerable civilians in the area came to light.

At the end of November, medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced that it had received the women and young girls – 125 of them initially – at one of its clinics. That number has since risen to over 150.

“We can tell the government that the people who are raping women on the road should be removed from the road, because if they remove them, they will not rape [the women],” recommends the survivor, whose identity has been concealed to protect her.

Following the reports, UNMISS, which has been tasked with protection of civilians as a major part of its mandate, intensified patrols in the areas where the attacks were reported to have taken place.

The confidence-building patrols often-times stop on the roads with members stepping out to speak to some of the people they meet walking long distances to find food.

   At the same time, the Mission redeployed engineers to work on clearing roads leading to paths that women used to walk to collect food.

As a hig- priority task, the Indian and British engineering teams deployed will continue to clear the roads for the next 10 days, and will work from dawn to dusk to meet their deadline. This will allow big tracks to ply the road, which has been dogged by insecurity.

“The scope of our work includes widening of the road, clearing of the trees – the undergrowth, and making this road passable for the big tracks for the World Food Programme,” says Prana Vauni, commander of the Indian Horizontal Mobility Engineering Company Task Force.  

The team on Friday’s patrol held a meeting with local authorities, and highlighted concerns of less human traffic on the road compared to other times.

“Our engagement also involves talking to the government,” says patrol team leader and Protection of Civilians Advisor, Norbert Niyodusenga. “Engaging with the government and reminding them of their responsibility,” he underlines.

For the teams on the patrol, some of the stories from the women are shocking and disturbing, but there is hope that continued presence of UN peacekeepers in the area will deter criminal elements from attacking and looting from women.

In Bentiu town, women who have often walked the dangerous road to get food highlight their challenges.

“Now with the current situation we are not cultivating, we are not producing food, we are depending on the United Nations,” says Roda Chol. “And when we try to go to the town to bring food, people attack us on the way,” she recounts.

Because of their precarious situation, the women have been thinking hard about a way out. They share suggestions of possible measures that could be instituted.

“Those who live in Bentiu they should receive [aid] in Bentiu; those who live in Nhialdu should receive their food in Nhialdu, or the road should be repaired, so that people can move normally, because last time when there was a good road between Nhialdu and Bentiu, people were moving freely,” says Nyasukar Nor.