On 22 April, HC @NyantiSara led a mission to Bentiu, Unity State to assess humanitarian needs and discuss with state authorities the ongoing violence and natural disasters driving up displacement, conflict-related sexual violence, attacks against women, civilians & humanitarians. pic.twitter.com/55Xv3A0eAu
— OCHA South Sudan (@OCHASouthSudan) April 25, 2022
Between 17 February and 7 April, some 72 civilians were killed, at least 11 injured, and 64 cases of sexual violence recorded, according to UNMISS human rights teams, which have conducted 10 verification missions to the area.
Ensure justice for victims
Two survivors reported that they were repeatedly raped and gang-raped after they came out of hiding to find food for their children. Another woman who had recently given birth recounted that she was raped and severely beaten for three days.
“I am strongly appalled by these horrific attacks on civilians in Leer. We must all do everything we can to ensure that victims and survivors get the justice they deserve and receive the care and support they need,” said Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for South Sudan and head of UNMISS.
Displacement and looting
Initial reports from Leer county, located in Upper Nile state, indicate that some 40,000 people have fled the violence, with thousands reportedly crossing the Nile to Fangak, a community in Jonglei state.
Thousands of cattle were raided during the attacks, while homes, humanitarian facilities and warehouses were looted and burned to the ground.
Meanwhile, the wet season has already begun, along with risks of floods, making conditions dangerous for thousands of displaced families. UNMISS is also investigating violence in Mayendit and Koch counties, including Mirmir Payam.
The Mission has deployed additional peacekeepers to conduct regular patrols, including night patrols in Leer town, to avert further loss of life.
Authorities urged to act
While UN ‘blue helmets’ are providing protection to displaced people, and the humanitarians serving them, UNMISS emphasized that civilian protection “is first and foremost the responsibility of the Government.”
The Mission has welcomed initial steps taken by the authorities, including the formation of an investigation committee and the deployment of troops to restore security.
UNMISS is engaging with leadership at the capital and state level to mitigate violence. Civil affairs teams are also meeting with communities to conduct focus group discussions in conflict-affected areas.
“The Mission urges national and local authorities to take immediate measures to reduce tensions and prevent further escalations and retaliatory attacks,” said Mr. Haysom.
“Impunity on violations of human rights must end and perpetrators held accountable for these horrible crimes.”