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A nightmare in South Sudan

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The scene was nightmarish. Women and girls fleeing fighting in South Sudan had taken refuge in a United Nations camp. As fighting subsided, they ventured out in search of food, but just outside the camp, they were dragged off by soldiers and raped. Two died of their injuries. At least one attack was said to have occurred within sight of U.N. peacekeepers.

The details in Jason Patinkin’s only-on-AP story could not have been reported without getting into the camp – but the U.N. at first blocked journalists from entering. Demanding access along with other journalists – and winning – in the midst of already challenging coverage allowed Patinkin to produce an exclusive that prompted outrage around the world. It earns Beat of the Week.

Demanding access along with other journalists – and winning – in the midst of already challenging coverage allowed Patinkin to produce an exclusive that prompted outrage around the world.

Fighting between factions in South Sudan has created a wave of about 60,000 newly displaced people, part of the nearly 900,000 South Sudanese who have fled their homes since civil war broke out in 2013. Some people hoping to leave the country were turned back at the borders and fled to United Nations camps for protection instead.

Patinkin, AP’s South Sudan stringer, and other journalists repeatedly sought access to the camps, but were denied by U.N. officials. Patinkin heard about the rapes from a civilian he called in one of the camps. He then contacted the civilian chairman of the camps as well as staff members at clinics inside. They confirmed that there were a number of reports of rape. The need to get inside the camps and talk to refugees, particularly women, was clear.

Sixteen journalists in Juba, the capital, wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in New York, demanding access to the camps. That got action, and the next day 10 of them went in.

Patinkin quickly sought out witnesses and corroborating details. What he learned stunned him. Soldiers would stop groups of women and girls returning to the camp and take them into a building where they would be raped _ sometimes as many as 10 attackers to one victim.

The reporting highlighted the reluctance by U.N. peacekeepers to protect civilians and that the attacks were targeted ethnic violence.

The rape victims were ethnic Nuer. The soldiers were loyal to South Sudan’s president, an ethnic Dinka; they had been fighting a faction of the military loyal to the opposition leader, a Nuer.

A woman quoted by Patinkin said, “One soldier came and he turned the gun to us. He said,If I kill you now,you Nuer woman, do you think there is anything that can happen to me?’” http://apne.ws/2aTeq3G

The victimized women wept and wondered aloud why no one was doing anything to aid them.

The victimized women wept and wondered aloud why no one was doing anything to aid them.

Reaction to the story was swift. A U.N. official said it was investigating “allegations of peacekeepers not rendering aid to civilians in distress.” The U.N. also came up with a firm number of confirmed attacks on women in Juba: 120. On Thursday,the U.N. human rights chief announced an even higher number of documented cases of sexual violence there: 217.

U.S. Sen. Robert Corker,chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,said he was “horrified” and demanded action. The daughter of a jailed South Sudanese journalist Alfred Taban,said her father had praised AP’s work.

For exposing the horrors outside a United Nations camp and for fighting for the access that allowed the women’s stories to be heard, Patinkin wins this week’s Beat of the Week award.

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