In 2015, during a long-running conflict between government forces and militant rebels in the young country of South Sudan, thousands of civilians were raped and executed. A report published earlier this year by the U.N. human rights office outlines atrocities so horrific, it’s almost unimaginable that they went largely unreported for months.
The report contains details of how instead of paying its military forces, the South Sudanese government allowed them to rape civilians. During a five-month span in a single state in the country, the investigation uncovered more than 1,300 rapes committed by soldiers.
In a New York Times report, one victim recounted how the forces murdered her husband, then tied her to a tree and forced her to watch them rape her teenage daughter. One African Union report even cited incidents of forced cannibalism.
“This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war,” said the United Nations high commissioner for human rights in a statement. “Yet it has been more or less off the international radar.”
Despite a cease-fire, the violence has been ongoing, displacing millions and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
“People who are in the greatest need are often the hardest to reach,” says Jessica Bousquette, World Vision’s Policy Advisor for Child Protection. “And with 20 percent of the South Sudanese population displaced, that challenge is enormous.”
Some organizations have set up clean water projects throughout the country, and are trying to vaccinate livestock to protect them from disease.
Even with a full-fledged effort, the devastation in South Sudan could take years to reverse. And if the international community doesn’t take notice—and action—it could get much worse.