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UN: Women and girls are ‘currency’ in South Sudan’s civil war

In a Skype interview, David Marshall of the U.N. describes findings in a new report on violence in South Sudan.

South Sudan’s government forces are encouraging its armed militias to take women and girls as “currency” in place of wages, a U.N. official said Friday.

Human rights atrocities, including rape, killings and looting, are taking place on both sides of South Sudan’s civil war, which has been raging for more than two years, according to a new U.N. report.

“In South Sudan, the reality is you’re either a loyalist (to the government) or you’re not. And if you’re not, you’re in peril of harassment, detention and death,” said David Marshall, coordinator of the U.N. human rights agency’s recent assessment of South Sudan.

“The youth (in government-aligned militias) particularly were told by the army commanders to take what you can, including women and girls” since the fighters couldn’t be paid wages, Marshall told the PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan. “The currency in South Sudan were women and girls.” The government sends its armed forces into areas thought to contain the opposition in order to take the residents’ cattle and destroy civilian property including homes, hospitals and schools, he added. Government officials have denied the findings.

Both sides accuse the other of targeting places of refuge, including churches, hospitals and U.N. bases. U.N. forces sent into South Sudan to protect civilians were blocked by warring parties from certain areas.

A woman reported being tied to a tree as her child was gang-raped, said Marshall. “For me, one of the most shocking findings is after two-and-a-half years of extreme sexual violence, how it’s corroding … the fabric of the community. So mothers have seen children gang-raped, they’ve lost their husbands, they’re on the run, they’re starving. And the communities are broken.”

The campaign of violence has continued even though South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar signed a comprehensive peace agreement in August. “There appears to be little political will to explore issues of truth, justice and accountability,” according to the report.

Since the fighting began in December 2013, more than 600,000 have fled to camps in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, and 1.5 million people have been displaced within South Sudan, putting them in danger of severe food shortages and possible famine, the report said.

In Sudan, and now South Sudan, over decades there have been cycles of extreme violence followed by reconciliation, forgiveness and amnesties, followed by more violence, said Marshall. “There’s no meaningful justice and this is clearly the problem.”

The U.N. report recommends the political and military leadership are removed from power, investigated, prosecuted and punished. And a transitional government should not include anyone who orchestrated the violence and commit to justice, he said.

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