South Sudan’s military and civil society in dialogue to stem conflict-related sexual violence

Ms. Huma Khan addresses participants during the dialogue.

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19 Jun 2019

South Sudan’s military and civil society in dialogue to stem conflict-related sexual violence

There is a new push to put an end to the spectre of conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan, with a new form of engagement between civil society and the military.

At a dialogue organized by the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), civil society representatives and senior military officials gathered at the military headquarters in Juba to chart the way forward, as the latter seek to fully implement their action plan against conflict-related sexual violence, launched on 14 March 2019.

“That action was taken, and all forces were alerted. By taking that action also in the plan, there’s a lot of training that has been done to create awareness among the forces – within the SSPDF – and that training has a lot of impact,” said Lieutenant General Malual Ayom Dor, who represented the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces Chief of Staff at the dialogue.

One pillar of the action plan is improved communication between the military and civilians.

“And the bridge will be civil society to link them with civilians, because there’s a lot of mistrust between civilians and [the] military,” said Huma Khan, Senior Women’s Protection Advisor at UNMISS, during the dialogue.

There has been public acknowledgement of the problem of conflict-related sexual violence among South Sudan’s military, and an internal push to clean the forces’ image globally, and according to Ms. Khan, “they want to address it.”

“So, we look forward that this engagement will build trust – slowly start a process of trust between SSPDF and civil society, leading to trust between SSPDF and communities,” she said.

Already, some changes have started being registered since the launch of the Action Plan, and partners are noticing this.

“There’s much more openness to listen when you have a complaint against them,” noted Ms. Khan. “Not only in Juba, but also in the field, our colleagues have felt it’s much easier to go and say that ‘we have this allegation and please inquire or investigate’. It may not lead to a positive investigation all the time, but it leads to openness to investigate,” she said.

According to Ms. Khan, the Action Plan has indeed created more awareness, and that there’re many more people who understand that conflict-related sexual violence is a problem.

“Because one of the problems here is that a lot of soldiers have been like this, and they don’t realise that sexual violence is a serious crime. So, there’s more and more people within SSPDF realizing and wanting to become different and wanting to be perceived differently.”

When they got their chance to speak, civil society organisations underscored the need for cooperation between the military and the civilians or civilian institutions.

“The media does not report to name and shame,” said Irene Ayaa from the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), one of the civil society organisations participating in the dialogue. “Media reports aim at drawing attention of the government to intervene to stop CRSV [conflict-related sexual violence]; to call the attention of CSOs (civil society organisations) to speak out loudly against CRSV and to bring justice to the victims,” she added, explaining why the military should cooperate with the media on this issue.

“People should cooperate with the media and give them information on CRSV. Harassment, beating of journalists is not good. Whoever feels that a journalist has written or published wrong information about them should go to court or file a complaint with the Media Authority,” she said.