UN: Over 150 sexual violence cases in South Sudan in 12 days

In this Saturday, June 3, 2017 file photo, a South Sudanese refugee and 32-year-old mother, who said she was raped for several days by a group of soldiers before she was allowed to leave, stands by a window at a women's center focusing on gender-based violence, run by the aid group International Rescue Committee, in Bidi Bidi, Uganda. (AP)
Updated 04 December 2018
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UN: Over 150 sexual violence cases in South Sudan in 12 days

  • The actual number of cases is far higher, as gender-based violence continues to be severely under-reported, the UN officials said

UNITED NATIONS: More than 150 women and girls have sought treatment in the past 12 days for rape and other acts of sexual violence near Bentiu, the second-largest city in South Sudan, UN officials said Monday.
A joint statement from the UN humanitarian chief and the heads of the UN children’s agency and the UN population agency condemned the “abhorrent attacks.”
They said that “the assailants have been described as armed men, many in uniform.”
A UN statement said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attacks. “These horrific acts are a distressing reminder of how, despite recent recommitments by South Sudan’s leaders to a cessation of hostilities and a revitalized peace agreement, the security situation for civilians remains dire, especially for women and children,” the statement said.
Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and UN Population Fund Executive Director Natalia Kanem called on authorities “to publicly denounce the attacks and ensure that those responsible for these crimes face justice.”
In the first half of 2018, they said, some 2,300 cases of gender-based violence were reported to medical and aid groups in South Sudan, the vast majority perpetrated against women and girls and over 20 percent against children.
“The actual number of cases is far higher, as gender-based violence continues to be severely under-reported,” the UN officials said.
“Humanitarian workers are providing critical, life-saving assistance and services to the survivors of the attacks,” they said. “We call on the authorities to ensure the protection and safety of both civilians and aid workers, to ensure that further such horrendous violations are prevented and that assistance reaches those in need.”
Humanitarian workers have warned of higher rates of sexual assault as growing numbers of desperate people try to reach aid.
Doctors Without Borders said Saturday the “dramatic increase” in sexual violence occurred as the women and girls walked to a food distribution site in Bentiu in Unity state.
They were robbed of clothing and shoes, and even their ration cards for food distribution were seized and destroyed, the group said.
Ruth Okello, a midwife with Doctors Without Borders who treated some of the survivors, called what happened “indescribable” and said those targeted include pregnant and elderly women and girls as young as 10.
Before the latest attacks, the medical charity said its Bentiu clinic treated 104 survivors of sexual assault in the first 10 months of this year.
There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But it plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.
Sexual violence has been widespread in the country’s civil war.
A peace deal signed in August 2015 didn’t stop the fighting, and neither did cessation of hostilities agreement in December 2017 and a declaration on June 27. A Sept. 12 power-sharing agreement signed in neighboring Sudan has so far been fraught with delays, missed deadlines and continued fighting in parts of the country.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and forced over 4 million to flee their homes — more than 1.8 million of them leaving the country in what has become one of the world’s fastest-growing refugee crises.
A UN panel of experts circulated a report last week saying that the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and UN human rights experts recently “corroborated accounts by victims and witnesses of women and girls as young as 12 years having been abducted by opposition forces and paraded for commanders to choose as ‘wives’.”
Three of Machar’s commanders in charge of forces committing the offenses have been identified, the panel said. They were not named.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.