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South Sudanese Church leaders shifts sexual violence stigma from victims to perpetrators

Posted on: June 18, 2021 3:44 PM
Archbishop Justin Badi Arama
Photo Credit: ACNS

Christian leaders in South Sudan join forces in statement to mark the International Day for Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The Anglican Primate of South Sudan, Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, has joined other Christian leaders in the South Sudan Council of Churches to urge Christians in the country to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on Saturday (19 June).

According to the United Nations, the term “conflict-related sexual violence” is rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitutions, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilisation, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to conflict.

They UN says: “a consistent concern is that fear and cultural stigma converge to prevent the vast majority of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence from coming forward to report such violence. Practitioners in the field estimate that for each rape reported in connection with a conflict, 10 to 20 cases go undocumented.”

In March 2021, the UN Mission in South Sudan documented 193 cases of conflict-related sexual violence affecting 142 women, 46 girls and five men. Perpetrators included community-based militias, civil defence groups and other armed elements. Survivors ranged in age from three to 70, with 81 per cent subjected to rape, gang rape or attempted rape.

Sexual violence was often committed during or on the margins of military operations and in the vicinity of military bases and training sites. Nursing mothers and pregnant women were not spared, and attacks were also reported against internally displaced persons and individuals with disabilities. Victims were often targeted on the basis of their actual or perceived ethnic or political affiliation, with some stripped naked in public as a form of humiliation.

In a statement this week, the South Sudan Council of Churches asked all churches across the country to include messages about the elimination of sexual violence in conflict in any services being held over the weekend.

The statement included suggested messages to include in these services. In one, they said that “acts such as rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage are crimes under South Sudanese laws and are inconsistent with teachings and principles of Christian faiths”. In another, they said that “parties to the conflict in South Sudan made commitments to protect civilians, especially to prohibit their respective forces to commit, command or condone acts of sexual violence. Such commitments must be upheld.”

The statement also said: “the Church commends survivors – both men and women – for their strength in speaking up against sexual violence defying a culture of stigma and fears of retaliation. . . There is no shame in being a victim of sexual violence; the shame must lie with those who perpetrate such heinous acts.”

Other messages made reference to the roles of families and communities and government institutions. The statement said that “the role of religious leaders of all faiths is to promote social cohesion among their followers and dialogue initiative to peacefully address any disagreement.”

In addition to Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, the statement was signed by the Moderator of South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, James Par Tap Hon; the Catholic Metropolitan Archbishop of Juba, Stephen Ameyu Martin; the General Overseer of Sudan Pentecostal Church, Isaiah Majok Dau; the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and Sudan, James Makuei Chuol; the Presiding Bishop Elect of the Africa Inland Church, James Lagos Alexander; and the General Secretary of South Sudan Council of Churches, James Oyet Latansio.

Commenting on the statement, the Anglican Communion’s Project Director for Gender Justice, Mandy Marshall, said: “it is so important that faith leaders have come together to state clearly that sexual violence is a crime and cannot be justified. This statement will be good news to survivors of sexual violence as faith leaders rightly state that the shame lays with the perpetrator of abuse and not the survivor, whilst challenge communities to not stigmatise survivors but support them. I welcome this statement and encourage it being acted on.”