Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), a medical aid agency, said Saturday that at least 125 women were raped, whipped and clubbed while seeking food aid in South Sudan.
This spree of violence took place over a period of 10 days in Bentiu between Nov. 19 and Nov. 29 as the women and girls were walking to a food distribution site.
"Some (of those raped) are girls under 10 years old and others are women older than 65. Even pregnant women have not been spared from these brutal attacks," said Ruth Okello, a midwife from MSF.
The U.N. mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said approximately 125 women and girls have sought medical treatment after having been raped or sexually assaulted as they walked along roads near Nhialdu and Guit on their way to Bentiu, and that victims reported the attacks as having been carried out by young men in civilian clothing or military uniforms. They were also beaten and robbed, it said.
"The violent assaults happened in a Government-controlled area," David Shearer, the head of the U.N. mission, said in a statement. "UNMISS peacekeepers have immediately sent patrols to the area to provide a protective presence and our human rights team has launched an investigation to identify the perpetrators."
Shearer also said that the mission is urging “armed forces in the area to guarantee command and control over their troops to ensure rogue elements within their ranks are not involved in these criminal acts."
MSF reported that the women were robbed of clothing and shoes, and even their ration cards were snatched and destroyed.
The state minister for information in Northern Liech State where the attacks were reported disputed the veracity of the reports.
"A rape of such a magnitude is not true," Lam Tungwar told Reuters. "We are a state (that) respects human rights and women's rights top our list."
Tungwar said local courts would tackle the cases of violence in Bentiu and other counties, but added, "I don't concur with the current report because it doesn’t (accurately) portray us and the community in Northern Liech state."
A five-year-long civil war has brought disastrous effects in South Sudan where sexual violence had been weaponized as a war tactic.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement with rebel factions in September to end the civil war that erupted in 2013 and has killed some 400,000 people and forced a third of the population from their homes.