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Cape Town — Coronavirus lockdowns have contributed to “soaring rates” of sexual and gender-based violence across Africa, says a new report. And “almost all actors” in the continent’s armed conflicts use sexual violence as a tactic of war.
These are among the conclusions of the annual report issued by Amnesty International, the British-based human rights NGO.
Citing the measures enforced by governments to curb the spread of Covid-19, the report said gender-based violence has grown to “crisis levels” in South Africa, where official crime statistics showed that sexual offences have soared by 74 percent.
Botswana, Lesotho and Malawi are among countries where women and girls have also suffered increasing rates of gender-based violence.
In Kenya, Amnesty said, the Ministry of Public Service, Gender and Youth Affairs had reported a five-fold increase in gender-based violence, mainly against women and girls during the Covid-19 outbreak. Crimes committed included physical assault, rape, attempted rape, murder, physical harm and psychological violence.
“Specific cases of gender-based violence in the [African] region triggered public outrage and calls for action,” the report said. “Women in Chad protested in the streets against sexual violence and a culture of impunity for perpetrators after the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl was filmed and shared on social media.”
Turning to sexual violence during conflict, Amnesty named the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and Niger as countries where it was perpetrated.
In the CAR, United Nations peacekeepers had documented 131 cases, including 115 rapes, between January and June last year.
In the DR Congo, conflict-related sexual violence is widespread, with UN statistics showing at least 1,100 women raped in North Kivu and Ituri alone between January and September.
“In Ethiopia, parties to the [Tigray] conflict committed widespread rape against women and girls in Tigray and Amhara,” the report continued. “In South Sudan, the UN estimated that state security forces and non-state armed actors committed at least 63 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, including rape, gang rape and forced nudity.”
In Sudan, cases of gender-based violence had been reported as security forces cracked down on protests against last October’s military coup.
“In Niger, members of the Chadian contingent of the G5 Sahel raped two women and an 11-year-old girl in April in Tera, Tillabéri region,” the report said.
Amnesty reported some progress in holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
In the DR Congo, at least 80 army and police officers have been prosecuted in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika and Kasaï provinces for crimes including sexual violence.
In Nigeria, there had been a court judgment supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and in the DR Congo the government was undertaking initiatives to establish a reparations fund for victims of conflict-related sexual violence.
Nevertheless, “while gender-based violence spiked, access to protection and support services for survivors, as well as to sexual and reproductive health services and information, remained limited across the [Africa] region.”