UK Equatorian Community On the Status of Women in War-Torn South Sudan

Take A Bold Stand for Change:

Equatorian Community Organisation UK (ECO-UK), Women’s Secretariat 

United Kingdom: 10th March 2017

Distinguished Guest, Ladies and Gentlemen

  1. It gives me great pleasure to be here in Reading, to celebrate the global emancipation of women while drawing attention to areas of women’s lives that still need to be addressed, not just in the United Kingdom but throughout the world.
  2. Allow me to start by quoting from a statement issued by UN Women on“Violence against women and girls is a grave violation of human rights”. Its impact ranges from immediate to long-term physical, sexual and mental consequences for women and girls, including death. It negatively affects women’s general well-being and prevents women from fully participating in society. Violence has not only negative consequences for women but also their families, the community and the country at large”.
  3. The UN system has international agreements such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1945; Conventions on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979; Convention on Elimination of all forms of Violence against Women, Geneva Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Torture, Geneva Protocol 1925, Geneva Convention 1949, Declaration of the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict 1974; and other relevant mechanisms are sufficient to bring offending member states such as South Sudan to account for any violation.

What is going on in South Sudan?

  1. South Sudan is the world’s youngest country that gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, following a popular referendum to secede after two decades of war with the oppressive regime in Sudan. With a population of about 11 million people and a size of 619,745 Sq Km., South Sudan is rich in natural resources including oil, minerals and vast arable land.
  2. Barely two years into independence, a political conflict over control of power and resources between the President of the Republic Salva Kiir and his relieved Vice President Riek Machar erupted into an open military confrontation in the national capital Juba on 15th December 2013. This political conflict soon degenerated into a civil war, that has since spread throughout the country. The impact of this war has been particularly horrific as armed soldiers sought to revenge on unarmed communities, gang raping women and children, committing massacres and burning down villages.
  3. The result of this conflict is that South Sudan currently has 1.6 million refugees in the neighbouring countries (86% women and children) and over 223,000 displaced people taking refuge in UN compounds in the main towns in the country, including the capital Juba. The government says these communities are sympathetic to the armed opposition and are therefore enemies. The communities have been left with no option than to seek refuge elsewhere or form groups of armed resistance to protect their people, livelihoods and properties.
  4. Although a power-sharing scheme was brokered between the protagonists in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, mediated by the Inter- Governmental Authority (IGAD) and Troika countries (The UK, USA and Norway) in August 2015, it collapsed in July 2016, barely three months into implementation, resulting in the ongoing conflict. The Vice president was forced out of Juba and escaped to the DRC, and the agreement collapsed. The Vice President is now in exile in South Africa although the conflict has taken another dimension with multiple armed groups taking up arms against the President’s regime.
  5. As you might have heard on the news (BBC & ITV) in the last few days, the UN has declared famine in South Sudan, with over 100,000 people facing immediate starvation and another 5.5 million people at the brink of starvation. The situation is desperate. The real agony here is that this is a human-made famine induced by the conflict. In some areas, 80% of children are severely malnutrition, and I am sure most of us saw the two-year-old who could barely walk or lift an arm because he had no energy left. These children are dying in the mother’s arms, who themselves are helpless and starving.
  6. South Sudan is now officially the worst country in the world, for anyone especially women and children to live in. After a visit to South Sudan late last year, the UN Special Advisor on Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and the Special UN Human Rights Advisor (2016), warned of a looming genocide comparable to Rwanda and appealed to the world to intervene as a matter of urgency.
  7. The UNSC efforts to secure arms embargo and targeted sanctions against the government and the armed opposition of these gross human rights abuses have been frustrated by Russia, China, Venezuela and incidentally African states like Angola and recently Egypt.
  8. Violent and Degrading Treatment of Women in South Sudan war of ethnic cleansing 
  9. Women hardly ever declare wars, but in this brutal war like in many similar conflicts, the greatest victims are often women and children. South Sudanese women of my generation have experienced wars three times in their short lives.
  10. Testimony: video clip of interview entitled: Broken Bodies- Broken Dreams sum up these gruesome experiences.
  11. The following cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments are not exhaustive but serve to illustrate the horrendous abuses women of South Sudan are facing as we speak:
  • Being subjected to death, the threat of death at gun point or experiencing the murder of their loved ones. Women are prematurely widowed or deprived of male relatives such as fathers, sons, brothers, or uncles, leaving them unprotected and unsupported as heads of households subjecting them to abject poverty.
  • Brutal raping and gang-raping of women by soldiers at gunpoint, including pregnant and lactating women often in the presence of their husbands or children, leaving them for dead or herding them into burning houses.
  • Scotch earth policy of destruction of properties, burning of houses and entire villages, and looting means of livelihoods and destruction of communities especially in rural areas, resulting in deaths and forced displacement.
  • Disruption of basic services such as health and education and destruction of the minimal physical infrastructures including schools, hospitals and churches or mosques, clean water points, that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to reconstruct.
  • Gender-based violence is not limited to women but extends to vulnerable men, young men and boys, killing or abandonment of the elderly, forceful conscription of young   men and boys into the forces, castrating or bashing heads of boys and toddlers against trees or objects.
  • Obstruction of humanitarian aids including frequent attacks on humanitarian workers, looting food relief in warehouses, blocking food and life-saving services from reaching women and children in need, and recently hiking visa and work permit fees for foreign workers, the later is now 10,000 USD per employer.Last year, the government was accused by the UN, of allowing its soldiers to rape women as a means of payment – another new phenomenon in South Sudan’s ethnic Abduction and using women from perceived enemy tribes as sex slaves or slave labours.
  • Foreigners deemed to be from hostile countries or critical humanitarian agencies are not spared In July 2016, Foreign Aid workers were gang-raped at gunpoint by government soldiers in a hotel in the capital Juba, barely 2 miles from UN Peacekeepers who failed to respond to calls for protection.
  1. A European nun was raped and shot dead in Yei when she was carrying a pregnant woman in labour to hospital in a car clearly marked Ambulance.
  2. Surveys conducted in the UN protection camps for the internally displaced in Juba and elsewhere revealed that at least 70% of the women in the UN protection camps have been subjected to one form of sexual violence or another.
  3. Women and children are hiding in the bushes unable to get to the border or nearby displacement centres, and are surviving on water lilies and wild fruits, utterly unprotected from the elements; dodging danger and wild animals.
  4. In this war at the 21st century, rape and starvation are used as weapons of mass destruction. The IGAD countries have conflict of interest, the African Union which had said this war was an African war and requires African solution, has gone mute after releasing its damning report in 2015 and there is no sight of the Hybrid Court to try perpetrators; the international community that has been too soft on a “young” country, has been effectively paralysed by skilful manipulation by the regime in Juba: there is little international media coverage, the UN is not effectively using its obligation to protect civilians, and perpetrators are protected with impunity by national and unscrupulous international actors.

What can we do?

21. As we celebrate the International Women’s Day in Reading in the tranquillity and affluence of the UK, which still needs to do more to ensure the protection of women’s rights, elimination of violence towards women and the advancement of women in all sectors and levels of society, fighting discrimination and removing the glass ceiling. Let’s give some thoughts to some of our sisters, mothers, aunties, grandmothers, daughters even granddaughters, who are less fortunate than us from troubled parts of the world. For these women, it is not the right to housing, education, health and food that we here take for granted, but the right to a life free from the armed brutality that they desperately seek.
22. Attack on the person and dignity of women anywhere should is an attack on all of us. We remember the horrific fatal gang-rape of the young woman in the street of Calcutta, India; we remember the mutilation of young Malala’s face in Afghanistan – now a global campaigner for women’s rights. We remember the abduction of the school girls in Chibok northern Nigeria, and yes we remember the plight of hundreds and thousands of women in Western countries who are still at risk of dying in the hands of their husbands or intimate partners. What can you and I do more to address the plight of women in South Sudan’s war of attrition?

i. Lobby your respective MPs to ask questions in parliament, about what the UK is doing to ensure UNSC Resolution 1325 is being realised in resolving the conflict in South Sudan and similar conflict affected areas where the UK is providing support.
ii. Ending impunity for the horrendous atrocities committed against women and children in the South Sudan conflict is a major step to healing for survivors. Your voice, through your MPs, in pushing for the African Union to set up the agreed hybrid court as soon as possible, will ensure such crimes against humanity do not become the norm, and perpetrators face justice.
iii. The women and children trapped in UN protection sites inside the country, sheltering from their government need protection. The UNSC approved an additional 4,000 protection force to protect civilians, in August 2016. To date, the protection force has not been deployed. As the UK is also a permanent member of the UNSC, lobby your respective MPs to follow up with the UN ambassador and the Foreign Office.
iv. The UK’s Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organisation that coordinates emergency responses to major disasters overseas is soon setting up an appeal in response to the recently declared famine in South Sudan and parts of East Africa. However other UK NGOs, including OXFAM and Plan UK have set up a South Sudan appeal on their websites. Please donate generously and ask your friends and family to do the same.
v. Build a coalition of women’s groups to advocate for the women of to include high profile women and celebrities,
vi. Petition world governments, regional bodies such as the AU, EU, and UN to do more to end this and other wars and bring violators of human and women’s rights to justice.

Thank you for listening and for having my sisters from South Sudan/Sudan and me.