6 September 2018

South Sudan Jails Soldiers for Aid Worker Rape, Journalist Murder

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(File photo)

Ten South Sudanese soldiers have been given prison sentences over a brutal assault on foreign aid workers in 2016. Rights groups say troops need to be held accountable for crimes committed during the country's civil war.

A South Sudanese military judge on Thursday jailed 10 soldiers over the gang-rape of five international aid workers and the murder of a journalist in a 2016 attack on a hotel in the capital, Juba.

The trial was widely seen as a test for President Salva Kiir's ability to hold the army to account for its actions during the country's five-year conflict.

Two of the accused were given life sentences for executing local reporter John Gatluak Nhial, as well as rape and other offenses. The remaining soldiers were handed terms ranging from seven to 14 years for rape, sexual harassment and looting. One soldier was acquitted for lack of evidence, while a commander accused of overseeing the rampage died in jail during the trial.

In July 2016, dozens of government soldiers stormed Juba's Terrain Hotel, where several staff from international NGOs were staying. The besieged workers begged UN peacekeepers stationed nearby to intervene, but were told forces in the region had no capacity to help. The attack came amid an escalation in fighting that followed the collapse of a peace deal between Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar.

Compensation 'embarrassing'

The judge ordered South Sudan's government to pay the hotel more than $2 million (€1.7 million) in compensation, as well as $4,000 to each of the five rape victims. The family of the slain journalist was to receive 51 heads of cattle.

Lawyer Issa Muzamil Sebit, who represented the rape victims, called the compensation "very embarrassing" and "an insult."

Human rights groups welcomed the verdict, but stressed that there were many more victims waiting for justice.

"The process was far from perfect, but shows that justice can be done where there is political will to do so," said Jehanne Henry of Human Rights Watch in Africa.

"After much foot dragging, today's convictions and sentences represent a first step towards ending chronic impunity in South Sudan, where both government forces and the armed opposition have committed human rights violations and crimes under international law," regional Amnesty International chief Seif Magango said.

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