UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- Senior UN and African Union (AU) officials are "appalled" at reports of conflict-related sexual violence against more than 150 women and girls in South Sudan and call for government action, a UN spokesman said on Wednesday.
Stephane Dujarric said the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reported the attacks on women and girls traveling from their villages to the town of Bentiu in the Unity region, a government controlled area in the north of the country, in the last dozen days or so.
"UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Ambassador Smail Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security and UN Undersecretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcukaz, executive director for UN Women, are appalled by the acts of sexual violence, including rape, committed against an estimated more than 150 women and girls recently near Bentiu," Dujarric said.
The attacks were by "young men in civilian clothing or military uniforms," UNMISS said earlier. "The UN Mission has sent patrols to the area and its human rights team has launched an investigation to identify the perpetrators."
It also said UNMISS engineers were clearing foliage from the sides of the road to make it harder for attackers to conceal their presence. However since then 25 more attacks were recorded bringing the total to more than 150, officials said.
The spokesman said that during a joint visit to South Sudan and Bentiu only two months ago, the three officials noted the continued brutality to which women and girls were subjected and the lack of accountability.
At that time they met with women "who were hopeful about the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), but remained concerned and fearful about the fragile peace and security in their communities," Dujarric said. "This type of predatory behavior is abhorrent and must end immediately."
Lacroix, Chergui and Mlambo-Ngcuka "recalled the resolve of government authorities to address sexual violence," the spokesman said. Given that these recent attacks took place in government controlled areas, the three urged President Salva Kiir and his senior leadership "to expedite efforts to prevent such violence, including through immediate justice and accountability measures."
"Further, they urge all parties to the conflict in South Sudan to implement their obligations to address sexual violence and restore the dignity of the women and children of South Sudan, as well as prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent," the Dujarric said, adding both the UN and the AU "stand ready to assist the parties in finding a political solution to the conflict."
On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the "brutal sexual attacks."
"These horrific acts are a distressing reminder of how, despite recent recommitments by South Sudan's leaders to a cessation of hostilities and a revitalized peace agreement, the security situation for civilians remains dire, especially for women and children," said a statement issued in the name of the spokesman for Guterres.
"Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been a consistent feature of the conflict in South Sudan, used both as a tactic of war and a driver of forced displacement," it said "The Secretary-General underlines that such predatory behavior against the most vulnerable is unacceptable."
Guterres also urged "the leaders of all the parties to the conflict - and future leaders in the Transitional Government of National Unity - to ensure the safety of civilians and address impunity for these crimes through investigation and prosecution of perpetrators."
"The secretary-general underlines that the only viable solution for the security and prosperity of the people of South Sudan is the immediate cessation of hostilities and the full implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan," the statement said.