A South Sudanese Military Court sentenced ten soldiers to various jail sentences Thursday. The court also ordered South Sudan’s government to pay US$4,000 to each rape survivor in compensation, and said the government should give the family of a local journalist, John Gatluak, 51, material compensation.
Two soldiers were convicted of his murder and sentenced to life. Three others were found guilty of raping aid workers, while four were convicted of sexual harassment and one of theft and armed robbery. They have all been given seven to 14-year jail terms. Eleven soldiers were tried, but one was freed due to lack of evidence against him.
The series of cases were viewed as a test for President Salva Kiir’s government to hold the military accountable for its actions. The South Sudanese military has previously been accused of violating rights and rampaging with impunity.
The case was filed against the soldiers after an attack in the Terrain Hotel in the capital Juba in July 2016. The South Sudanese military was accused of numerous atrocities since the outbreak of a civil war in 2013.
This attack took place during a fight in Juba between the government and rebel forces. After three days of fierce battle, President Kiir’s troops won over rebel forces loyal to former Vice president Riek Machar. More than 70 people were killed during those three days.
Mike Woodward, a British hotel manager, said during the trial that 50-100 soldiers entered the compound, looted it, and raped five women. "One group proceeded straight to the bar and restaurant while another group continued to the residential area," he said of their rampage, which lasted several hours.
They also killed local community radio journalist Gatluak, who was taking shelter in the hotel compound.
The aid workers accused United Nations peacekeepers of failing to come to their rescue despite being stationed close to the hotel. The U.N. ordered an investigation after the accusations, and the findings led to the sacking of the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Kenya's Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki.
Issa Muzamil Sebit, the lawyer representing the rape survivors, said that the compensation offered to them was "embarrassing and it is an insult to the victims."
Peter Malual Deng, the defendants’ lawyer said he was shocked and would appeal the verdict.