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Church seeks an end to stigmatizing survivors of gender-based violence

Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan are condemned and rejected by their families, and the country’s Council of Churches (SSCC) wants this stigmatization of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to end. (PHOTO/UNMISS)

JUBA – Some survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan are condemned and rejected by their families, and the country’s Council of Churches (SSCC) wants this stigmatization of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to end.

“They are ostracized and relegated to the margins of society, turning them into outcasts,” said Archbishop Reverend Justin Badi Arama of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict marked annually on 19 June.

The prelate was reading a joint statement in the capital, Juba, to members of the diplomatic community and non-governmental organizations sympathetic to the rising numbers of cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

“There is no shame in being a victim of rape, but the shame must lie with those who perpetrate the act,” he continued, saying that stigma at times “extends to children born of rape, resulting to discrimination and exclusion.”

Listing a set of recommendations, Archbishop Rev Badi Arama stressed the need to create awareness to help refrain victims from being discriminated, while asking victims to “speak up about the violence they have suffered without being silenced by stigma usually associated with such crimes.”

Speaking at the event, a senior official of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) lent his voice to the Church’s condemnation, saying the country’s mothers, sisters, aunties, wives have suffered sexual violence over the years of being mired in conflict.

“Only last year, in 2018, over 1,200 victims were documented as having suffered sexual violence,” said Arnaud Royer, the UNMISS Deputy Human Rights Director, adding that there has been the recent acceptance that this vice has been happening in the country.

“Lately, we have noticed that we are not anymore in denial; we have seen some progress,” he said, adding that UNMISS has been engaging with civil society, perpetrators and some state authorities and that some action has been taken to report perpetrators.

“We want to raise awareness, we want to raise our voice to say that this stigmatization must end. This horrible situation must end,” said Rev James Oyet Latansio the General Secretary, South Sudan Council of Churches during the event.

“Enough is enough. This must stop,” stressed an emotional Latansio.

Saying that women are coming together to rally against sexual-violence, Agnes Wasuk the National Coordinator of Women’s Programs at the council of churches highlighted that grassroots women experience severe sexual violence.

The diplomatic community also lent their voices on the day.

“Addressing this set of crimes will help build peace in the country,” said Thomas Hushek, the United States Ambassador to South Sudan, also present at the event.

“Shame lies with those who perpetrate it – this is a really clear and profound message, which we all need to help support,” said the European Union representative in South Sudan, Frances Collins.

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