Curbing conflict-related sexual violence: UNMISS completes three-day training for South Sudan forces in Bentiu

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9 Dec 2018

Curbing conflict-related sexual violence: UNMISS completes three-day training for South Sudan forces in Bentiu

Beatrice Mategwa

Military personnel from the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces have completed a three-day training aimed at curbing conflict-related sexual violence in the northern town of Bentiu, where shocking incidents of rape and sexual assault have been reported in recent weeks.

Organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Human Rights Division, the training – which was planned days before the allegations of brutal rapes of some 150 women and girls near the town came to the fore – attracted 40 government soldiers.

“We are investigating, because really, nobody knows whether the government forces, or the IO (SPLA in Opposition) forces or the civilian forces [are involved] said Colonel Major Ajak Deng Biar, referring to the sexual assaults that reportedly happened over a ten-day period at the end of November, along roads near Nhaildiu and Guit.

Biar is the officer in charge of ‘Moral Orientation’ South Sudan People’s Defense Forces.

“There are civilians having a gun and having the SPLA uniform, so investigations will be the one to clarify,” added Major Biar, on the sidelines of the training.

UNMISS has urged armed forces in the area to guarantee command and control over their troops to ensure rogue elements within their ranks are not involved in criminal acts such as the recent ones.

“Each victim of sexual violence could be your sister, mother, or daughter,” said UNMISS’ Human Rights Director, Eugene Nindorera, during the workshop that aimed to enhance prevention, response and greater accountability for conflict-related sexual violence crimes.

“It is unacceptable. We have to denounce this type of behavior,” Nindorera told participants.

“Your role is to protect the people of your country: women, girls, men, boys – this is your responsibility, your commitment, and your obligation, as a member of the military forces,” he added. “You have to protect them, irrespective of their ethnic group,” he said, as he drew lessons from his past when he worked for his government in Burundi on human rights.

“We are also in a crisis,” he said, referring to his country.  “We have a lot of issues with the war and we are still facing a lot of challenges,” he said, adding “there were a lot of issues within the army, and the issue of sexual violence.”

Participants received certificates, and their commanders signed an undertaking to address conflict-related sexual violence within the SSPDF.

“This workshop is important because, one, we want to let these officers who are participants here know what is conflict-related sexual violence – what it means. We also want them to know how to fight this conflict-related sexual violence; we want to let them fight this out,” said Colonel Biar.

The workshop, organised by the UNMISS Women Protection Advisor’s office – part of the UN Mission’s Human Rights Division – emphasised awareness of the soldiers’ responsibilities.

The training is part of a series of countrywide trainings, with trainers expected to train others.

“It was really important to give them the skills so that they can know exactly what conflict-related sexual violence is all about. What will be more important is really to look at the future; how they are going to change the behavior, and how they are going to tackle any kind of situation like the one that has happened in the last few days in this state, where 150 women and girls were raped,” said Nindorera.

The training included sharing of experience, understanding various basics of human rights, frameworks of sexual violence crimes, and discussing various UN resolutions pertaining to combating such crimes.

A recent peace agreement signed by once bitter foes lists out, in various chapters, a requirement to stop and combat sexual and gender-based violence in the country, with observers saying that the peace agreement is currently being severely tested.