File Photo: Rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), a South Sudanese anti-government force, take part in a military exercise on Sept. 22, 2018, at their base in Panyume, South Sudan, near the border with Uganda. (Xinhua/AFP)
UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- Sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war by all the parties of the South Sudan conflict, a United Nations (UN) envoy told the Security Council Tuesday, noting a significant increase of perpetrations this year.
Pramila Patten, the UN secretary-general's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said the UN has witnessed systematic patterns of sexual violence since 2013 when the conflict started in South Sudan, but the phenomenon "escalated dramatically" this year.
"In 2018, there has been a clear and alarming increase in the number of cases and victims of conflict-related sexual violence documented," she said, adding that the number of victims has already reached 1,157, the highest recorded in the last three years.
First-hand testimony Patten heard indicated that rape was used by the attackers "to exercise power over their victims, impose extreme humiliation, destroy their dignity, and fracture families and the community."
Most notably, Patten pointed to the reports of mass rapes in Bentiu in November, where some 125 women and girls were reportedly raped, whipped and clubbed over 10 days while heading to a food distribution site.
The UN team on the ground and the local authorities have both launched investigations into this matter, according to Patten.
In a separate incident in October, 43 cases of rape or gang rape and the abduction of 505 women and 63 girls for the purpose of sexual slavery in Western Equatoria region were documented, she said. Patten added that sexual abuse would reportedly cease only when abducted women become fighters.
Among the incidents Patten cited to the Security Council, the alleged perpetrators are from both the government troops and the opposition forces.
Patten said that, although the South Sudanese officials she met with reiterated that the violations are unacceptable, "the fact is that it is still largely 'cost-free' to rape in South Sudan."
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the UN peacekeeping chief who spoke to the Security Council before Patten, condemned "in the strongest terms" the continued prevalence of sexual violence and called on the South Sudanese parties to bring all those responsible to justice.
Lacroix appealed to the international community to "pronounce itself and remind the parties that with such prevalent impunity, South Sudan would not be able to find a respectable place among the community of nations."
Moreover, Patten urged the Security Council to apply sanctions for sexual violence crimes as a critical aspect of deterrence and prevention.
Patten said her office, together with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, submitted on Monday the names of three alleged perpetrators of a July incident in southern Unity state to the South Sudan sanctions committee of the council for its consideration.
Patten further called for comprehensive services to be provided for the survivors of sexual violence, particularly medical and psychosocial care, and for conflict-related sexual violence to be addressed as a central aspect of the revitalized peace agreement signed between the government and the opposition in September.