Turning point?

Shock in South Sudan as foreign aid workers gang raped by soldiers

United Nations peacekeepers from Rwanda in South-Sudan (Jane Hahn for Washington Post)

Reports that several foreign aid workers were gang raped by a band of South-Sudanese soldiers in  the country’s capital, Juba, could have far-reaching consequences for humanitarian efforts in the country. The attack occurred in during a flurry of fighting in Juba, which lasted four days and killed at least 300 people, as the country’s civil war sparked up again. A group of nearly 30 foreign aid workers were trying to find shelter from the violence at the Terrain Hotel, when troops invaded the compound. “The soldiers just came to the bathroom where all the girls were hiding and they just picked us out of the bathroom one by one,” one American woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, told NPR.

While they were only about a mile away from a United Nations compound and tried to call for help they were left to their own devices, as armed U.N. peacekeepers were unable to obtain permission to leave their base and the U.S. embassy lacked the resources to send in a rescue team. The woman who talked to NPR said that when a soldier forced her into a room where she saw panties and blood on the floor, she collapsed into a fetal position. “He kept hitting me with an AK-47, yelling at me to open my legs,” she said. “‘Open your legs. I’m going to kill you if you don’t open your legs.'” She was saved from being raped when another soldier came in and seemingly ordered the man to stop. Nevertheless, at least five other women were not as lucky — one woman told The Associated Press she was assaulted for hours on end by 15 men.  While some war zones (parts of Libya and Syria, for example) have become no-go zones for international aid, this is not yet the case for South Sudan. There are fears that this attack could mean a turning point for humanitarian relief in the country, however some relief agencies started scaling back their operations in the country. Others have started evacuating staff members. “If you look at the latest aid worker security report, for the first time South Sudan is the most insecure location in the world, overtaking Afghanistan and Somalia, where we expect more violence,” said Julien Schopp of Interaction, a D.C.-based group for development and relief agencies.

Read the full story at NPR.

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