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U.N. Report Documents Systemic Rape By Government Troops In South Sudan


The world's newest country, South Sudan, has had a rough time. A violent civil war officially ended last August, but both sides have failed to implement a peace deal they signed at the time. Now a United Nations report documents some of the atrocities that happened last year before and after that peace deal was signed. NPR's Jason Beaubien is with me now. The two of us reported in South Sudan together last month. And before we get started, just a warning, the violence we're about to talk about might be disturbing for some listeners. So Jason, let's start with this U.N. report. What does it say?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: It really focuses on the government and says that the government troops were some of the worst actors. And they talked about children being abducted as child soldiers. They talked about civilians being killed. And they talked about a systematic use of rape to terrorize civilians and also as payment to soldiers - that rather than pay soldiers, they actually were giving them women and allowing them to rape them and that this was a systematic process that they saw happen across parts of South Sudan where SPLA, the government troops, moved in.

MCEVERS: We heard a lot about sexual violence against women when we were there, right?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, you know, it was just amazing. We were at a hospital, and there was an entire ward at the hospital just dedicated to women who were dealing with sexual violence.

MCEVERS: Right. This hospital was inside a huge refugee camp. And the hospital staff was at the front gate of the camp around the clock so that anytime a woman walked up to the camp, they would ask her, you know, have you been a victim of violence?

BEAUBIEN: And we were hearing it over and over and over again that women were afraid to go out and collect firewood outside the camp because they were afraid of being raped. Friends of theirs had been raped. And even at this hospital, there was a special door with a yellow flower on it, and that's where women would go in if they were looking for counseling or help with these types of issues.

MCEVERS: What else did the reports say?

BEAUBIEN: The report also said that the government troops used ethnic lines in terms of who they attacked. This war was between the president, Salva Kiir, who's a Dinka, and his vice president, Riek Machar, who's Nuer. And basically, they're saying that the government troops, the SPLA troops, were targeting different groups based on ethnicity and actually killing some people specifically because of their ethnicity.

MCEVERS: And there's another report that came out yesterday from Amnesty International. What did that say?

BEAUBIEN: That again accused SPLA troops, government troops, of taking 60 men and boys who they accused of being supporters of the opposition and locking them in a shipping container on a Catholic Church compound, closing the door and letting all of them except for one suffocate to death over the next 24 hours.

MCEVERS: I mean, while we were there, we heard stories about this too - right? - about people who were afraid to speak out against the government, afraid of what the government would do. Walking around Unity State where a lot of these atrocities happened, a guy pulled me aside and whispered we have to be careful what we say. If you speak out, they'll take you away in the night. And this happened to my friends. And I asked him how many, and here's what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There are three - three people who have been caught.

MCEVERS: And did they come back?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, they didn't. They didn't come back.

MCEVERS: They didn't come back, he said. Jason, this is a country that is supposed to be, you know, forming a unity government. It's supposed to be implementing this peace deal that they signed back in August. And truth and reconciliation about what happened during the civil war is supposed to be a part of that process. Does a report like this from the U.N. coming out - does that help or hurt the process?

BEAUBIEN: You know, it's hard to say. Clearly, what has happened over the course of this civil war has to be brought out into the open. You've got people who have been pushed out of their lands and other people have taken it over. You've got people who have had loved ones killed. You've had people who've, you know, watched their loved ones be raped in front of them. And these atrocities need to be dealt with. Right now, however, South Sudan is in a terrible position. It doesn't have enough food. You know, the peace deal still isn't implemented. And in the short-term, having this report come out may end up causing even more friction and more trouble in a country that's dealing with so many other problems.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien. Thanks a lot.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

MCEVERS: And we should say the man who talked to us about his friends - we are not using his name for his protection. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.