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UN Ignored Desperate Pleas Of Gang-Rape Victims In South Sudan, A New Country Bush Championed And Obama Abandoned

Several years after former President George W. Bush facilitated South Sudan’s long-awaited independence, the young nation has fallen, once again, victim to what amounts to a civil war. Sectarian violence fueled by ethnic divisions are tearing the country apart, once-again, as President Salva Kiir’s central government in Juba struggles to fend off long-time rival and former vice president Riek Machar’s paramilitary force stationed outside the city. The international community has so far failed to respond to reports of mass violence. In fact, the UN is actively turning a blind-eye to the war’s most desperate victims: women.

As the conflict escalates and the country descends into chaos, sectarian militias have fallen back on primal savagery, exercising control over women’s bodies to establish some ill-conceived notion of power.

One case in particular illustrates the horror inflicted upon South Sudan’s most vulnerable victims.

Nearly one month ago several women were gang-raped at a “safe house” by soldiers celebrating their victory over opposition forces. One of the women was raped by 15 different soldiers. The disturbing attack occurred in the Terrain hotel complex, less than one-mile away from a UN peacekeeping force. Despite a deafening cry for help, the United Nations refused to respond, allowing the soldiers to indulge, openly, in sexual violence against their female victims.

The Associated Press first broke the story. AP reports (emphasis added):

On July 11, South Sudanese troops, fresh from winning a battle in the capital, Juba, over opposition forces, went on a nearly four-hour rampage through a residential compound popular with foreigners, in one of the worst targeted attacks on aid workers in South Sudan’s three-year civil war.

They shot dead a local journalist while forcing the foreigners to watch, raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions, several witnesses told The Associated Press.

For hours throughout the assault, the U.N. peacekeeping force stationed less than a mile away refused to respond to desperate calls for help. Neither did embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.

The women were deliberately ignored. At least five women were raped. Several others in the area were tortured and beaten. For hours and hours, the soldiers gang-raped their victims, passing around female flesh like vultures feeding on a carcass. And the UN did nothing. The US embassy did nothing. Nobody responded. Right under the nose of the international community, these women were terrorized and the world turned away in indifference. As the attack was ongoing, at least two calls were successfully made to the UN peacekeeping force one mile away from Terrain. They did nothing.

“All of us were contacting whoever we could contact,” the woman raped by 15 soldiers told the AP. “The UN, the US Embassy, contacting the specific battalions in the UN, contacting specific departments.”

The AP chronicles the details of the incident:

A member of the U.N.’s Joint Operations Center in Juba first received word of the attack at 3:37 p.m., minutes after the breach of the compound, according to an internal timeline compiled by a member of the operations center and seen by AP.

Eight minutes later another message was sent to a different member of the operations center from a person inside Terrain saying that people were hiding there. At 4:22 p.m., that member received another message urging help.

Five minutes after that, the U.N. mission’s Department of Safety and Security and its military command wing were alerted. At 4:33 p.m., a Quick Reaction Force, meant to intervene in emergencies, was informed. One minute later, the timeline notes the last contact on Monday from someone trapped inside Terrain.

For the next hour and a half the timeline is blank. At 6:52, shortly before sunset, the timeline states that ‘DSS would not send a team.

The Associated Press interviewed by phone eight survivors, both male and female, including three who said they were raped. The other five said they were beaten; one was shot. Most insisted on anonymity for their safety or to protect their organizations still operating in South Sudan. AP does not identify victims of sexual assault.

This comes after the UN’s own investigation lamented the fact that 217 South Sudanese women were violently raped this summer in the country’s capital in a span of just five days.

Sexual violence is exacerbated by the vicious positive feedback loop of sectarian warfare. In a war between men, women are used as sexual hostages; “as a terror tactic, rape aims to destroy or expel populations or ethnic groups, impregnate women, intimidate civilians, pillage land and resources, and may serve to increase military morale,” according to a 2009 paper published by PLOS Medicine.

When asked about the horrific incident, the State Department said Monday that it “actively responded” to the crisis. It turns out the State Department’s definition of “active response” is different from everyone else’s. “But that response was limited to Ambassador Molly Phee calling the South Sudanese government and pressing them to send forces to the besieged compound and ensuring those wounded could be airlifted to nearby hospitals,” reports BuzzFeed News. “State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau also refused to confirm that South Sudanese soldiers were involved in the incident, but noted that the assaulters ‘were armed and wearing uniforms’ and that the South Sudanese army controlled the area at the time of the attack.”

The Obama administration’s equivocation here shouldn’t be surprising given its history in the region.

The Bush administration made reconciliation between political rivals a priority, spending time, energy, resources, and even political capital to stabilize a region torn apart by decades of bloodshed. The effort paid off. Long-time rivals Kiir and Machar formed a coalition government in 2011, heralding South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. But Obama abandoned the country, pulling out valuable US assets from South Sudan, in favor of his Asia Pivot and other failed policy goals. By 2013, South Sudan had collapsed into civil war.

The Bush administration made reconciliation between political rivals a priority, spending time, energy, resources, and even political capital to stabilize a region torn apart by decades of bloodshed.

In an essay entitled “Unmade in the USA: The Inside Story of a Foreign Policy Failure,” Foreign Policy’s Africa editor Ty McCormick explains, in detail, exactly how Obama’s policies of disengagement unraveled President Bush’s incredible legacy of success in South Sudan:

When South Sudan finally hoisted its own flag in Juba on July 9, 2011, a delegation of Bush and Obama administration officials was in attendance. In the crowd, the New York Times reported, someone waved a sign that read, “Thank You George Bush.”

Everything changed during the Obama era. McCormick continues in an extended analysis of Obama’s legacy in the region:

Unlike Bush, who one senior White House official told me “could have been the desk officer” because he was so engaged on southern Sudan, Obama has preferred to leave details to his staffers, who have not always seen eye to eye with one another. Key administration posts, including the special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, ambassador to South Sudan, and assistant secretary of state for African affairs, have remained vacant for extended periods during his presidency. “Through the crucial part of the time that the relationship between [South Sudanese] factions deteriorated, the U.S. had nobody in office,” said John Prendergast, a former Clinton administration official who co-founded the Washington-based Enough Project, a group that works to end genocide around the world.

There are those who feel that Obama saw little benefit from engaging with the young and troubled nation. Certainly, they say, he did not share the same political incentives as Bush, whose evangelical base championed the southern cause. (The people in the north — present-day Sudan — are generally Arab and Muslim, while the southern population is mostly African and either Christian or animist.) But if ideology and politics mattered, so did personality: Due to a fateful meeting at the United Nations in 2011, at which Kiir reportedly lied to the U.S. president about military action along his country’s northern border, Obama’s relationship with the South Sudanese president was “poisoned from the start,” according to Princeton Lyman, who served as the special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan from 2011 to 2012.

The cumulative effect of all these factors was that the United States began to distance itself from South Sudan at a time when the young nation, long supported by Washington, was arguably at its most vulnerable. Without a strong commitment at the highest levels of government, U.S. policy wavered, and relationships between American and South Sudanese officials frayed. Former Obama staffers say that the bulk of U.S. energy was devoted to preventing a return to war between Juba and Khartoum, and that little attention was paid to the dangers that lurked within South Sudan: the gaping internal divisions, dating back decades, that threatened to tear apart the new country’s two most important institutions, the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the army. By the time the horrific violence erupted in December 2013, the United States not only proved unable to push the country’s feuding leaders toward a peaceful compromise — it could not reach them for three full days.

Obama’s own Secretary of State hailed the Bush administration success, highlighting America’s pivotal role in South Sudan’s independence. The United States of America helped “midwife the birth of this new nation,” stated Kerry.

Abandoning the country in its infancy has inevitably led to disastrous results.

In 2016, Kiir’s military and Machar’s “bodyguards” are both being accused of war crimes and horrific atrocities against civilians. Employing poorly-trained and trigger-happy child soldiers equipped with AK-47s and fighting-age men eager to rape and pillage innocents, the warring parties have terrorized local populations with an intensity that may ultimately match the levels of carnage seen in Rwanda and Darfur. Gang-rape is now the new normal; and neither the United States nor the United Nations are willing to lift a finger.

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