Attackers raped, beat and robbed more than 100 women and girls in northern South Sudan over a 10-day period in November, aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been embroiled in civil conflict since 2013, with its civilian population paying a heavy price. South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, signed a peace agreement with rebel leaders in September but it is not yet clear if the agreement will hold.
The unrest has driven nearly 4 million people from their homes, according to UN figures, with hunger and violence widespread.
“Women and young girls have been coming to the MSF clinic in Bentiu en masse over the past week after surviving horrific episodes of sexual violence,” Ruth Okello, an MSF midwife in South Sudan, was quoted as saying in an MSF statement Friday.
“Some are girls under 10 years old and others are women older than 65. Even pregnant women have not been spared from these brutal attacks.”
The state minister for information in Northern Liech State, where the attacks were reported, told Reuters news agency that the accounts were not accurate.
“A rape of such a magnitude is not true,” Lam Tungwar told Reuters. “We are a state (that) respects human rights and women’s rights top our list.” He added that incidents of violence would be dealt with in the local courts.
MSF said its teams had provided emergency medical care and other assistance to 125 women in Rubkona county in the 10 days from 19 to 29 November 2018.
“In more than three years of working in South Sudan, I have never seen such a dramatic increase in survivors of sexual violence arriving at our programs looking for medical care,” said Okello.
“We treated 104 sexual and gender-based violence survivors in the first 10 months of this year, and we have assisted 125 survivors in the past week alone.”
In addition to being raped, the women were whipped and beaten with sticks and rifle butts, the aid agency said. The attackers also stole their clothing, shoes and anything of value, MSF said, and destroyed ration cards needed for food aid.
The assaults came as more people are on the move in Rubkona county to try to reach food distributions in the area, the aid agency said. Women are walking in groups for safety but are still being confronted by increasingly larger groups of aggressive attackers.
The head of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan on Wednesday called for an end to violence against women in the country as part of a global campaign.
“Here in South Sudan, women and girls have suffered immensely because of the ongoing conflict,” said David Shearer. “I’ve spoken to many of them who have been subject to sexual violence including rape. This must stop.”