South Sudan court jails soldiers for rape and murder of aid workers
Juba — A South Sudan military court on Thursday found 10 soldiers guilty for their role in an attack on a Juba hotel in which five foreign aid workers were raped and a journalist was killed.
"The military court has found out that the accused ... are guilty for their direct responsibilities in committing these crimes," said judge Knight Baryano Almas, detailing charges of rape, murder, looting and destruction.
One suspect was acquitted while another, a military commander accused of overseeing the horrific attack, died in prison in October 2017 in what the army said was a "natural death".
After 31 trial sessions, two soldiers were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of local journalist John Gatluak, as well as rape and other crimes.
The others received sentences ranging from seven to 14 years for charges including rape, sexual harassment and looting.
Violence erupted in South Sudan’s capital when a peace deal between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar collapsed in July 2016.
During the clashes, government forces rampaged through the Terrain hotel compound housing about 50 employees of foreign organisations.
In his evidence at the start of the trial, the hotel’s British owner, Mike Woodward, said that "50 to 100 armed soldiers" broke into the compound.
Woodward listed "the gang rape of at least five international women", the murder of a South Sudanese journalist, the shooting of a US aid worker and "the beating and torture of almost every person in the entire building", including mock executions, among the crimes allegedly committed at his hotel.
During the attack the aid workers made multiple appeals for help to nearby UN peacekeepers, which went unanswered. A special UN investigation found that a lack of leadership in the UN mission, which has 13,000 uniformed personnel in South Sudan, culminated in a "chaotic and ineffective response" during the fighting.
The court on Thursday ruled that South Sudan’s government must pay compensation of $4,000 to each rape victim and more than $2m to Woodward for damage to his property.
Gatluak’s family will be compensated with 51 head of cattle.
"The leadership of the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] would like to issue an apology to the victims," army spokesperson Col Santo Domic told journalists after the ruling.
He said the long trial and delayed verdict was because "most of the victims had left South Sudan after the conflict — getting them took long".
Woodward welcomed the verdict.