GENEVA (7 September 2018) -- The United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan welcomed the jail sentence of 10 soldiers handed down yesterday in the Terrain Case, urging the Government to continue to seek justice for the many Sudanese victims of sexual violence and other crimes committed since the outbreak of a civil war in 2013.
In July 2016, during intense fighting in Juba between government and rebel forces, soldiers broke into the Terrain Hotel in Juba, leaving a local journalist killed and five international aid workers gang-raped. A military court on 6 September sentenced two soldiers to life imprisonment for the murder, while the other soldiers found guilty of rape, sexual harassment, theft and armed robbery received sentences ranging from seven to 14 years in jail. Rape survivors were each granted about $4,000 in compensation.
The Commission welcomed the judgment – a rare instance against soldiers, who have frequently been accused of violence both against the civilian population and humanitarian workers – as it shows that the Government of South Sudan is able to muster the political will to combat impunity. Yet it deplored that the many South Sudanese women raped in the same cycle of violence have not been able to obtain justice, raising fears that crimes committed against locals may not receive the same attention as high-profile cases involving foreigners.
“Accountability in cases of sexual violence is vital in South Sudan,” said Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission on human rights in South Sudan. “This trial should become a precedent to deter further violence and provide victims with sorely needed reparation. Otherwise Terrain will be remembered as an exception to the rule of impunity.”
After five years of war and widespread attacks against civilians that led to the displacement of more than four million people, including two million inside the country, the South Sudanese struggle to see a way out of their nightmare.
The Commission, which last month travelled to the world’s youngest state to examine its human rights situation, met with civil society and government authorities, and interviewed victims and internally displaced persons (IDPs) across the country. It will update Member States on its findings to date in an interactive dialogue at the UN Human Rights Council, on 17 September 2018.
In March 2019, it is due to publish a report to clarify responsibility for alleged gross violations, including sexual and gender-based violence and ethnic violence. Its last report published in March 2018 concluded that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, as are called the Government forces (SPLA), both factions of the SPLA-in-Opposition, as well other armed groups in the conflict “are deliberately targeting civilians on the basis of their ethnic identity and by means of killings, abductions, rape and sexual violence, as well as looting and the destruction of villages. Those acts constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Following the long-awaited Terrain Case verdict, Commissioners Yasmin Sooka, Andrew Clapham and Barney Afako expressed concern that all levels of the military should come under scrutiny with regards to the crimes committed.
“We insist on commanders being held responsible for failing to prevent or punish war crimes committed by those under their control,” said Andrew Clapham. “The only deterrent to further violence is consistent and exhaustive accountability.”
The Commissioners welcomed the recent peace agreement between the Government and opposition initialed on 30 August 2018 (and likely to be signed in Addis Ababa later this month later this month, following an Intergovernmental Authority on development (IGAD) summit convening heads of state and Government) as well as the Government’s intention to establish a special court for conflict related sexual violence as a first step towards recognizing the gravity of the problem, hoping these milestones will translate into tangible improvements for the lives of the South Sudanese, who are deeply affected by ongoing conflict-related sexual violence, a suffering only made worse by food insecurity, drought and massive displacement.
Thousands of women are thought to have been raped or sexually harassed in the conflict, with the number of cases reported likely failing to reflect the pervasive violence owing to the cultural stigma attached.
“We are encouraged by this development and earnestly hope this revitalized process will result in the guns being silenced and millions of South Sudanese feeling safe enough to return home,” said Yasmin Sooka. “But a renewed and energized commitment to accountability as well as peace is desperately needed if the concerns of South Sudanese are to be allayed”.
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For more information about the UN Commission on human rights in South Sudan, please see: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/COHSouthSudan/PAges/Index.aspx
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