South Sudanese Military Court Delivers Guilty Verdict Against Soldiers Convicted Of The Brutal Rape And Murder

In early September, the South Sudanese Military Court held ten soldiers guilty for the crime of brutal ‘rape against foreign aid workers and the murder of a South Sudanese journalist during 2016.’ Indeed, news sources have defined the crime ‘as the worst attack against foreigners.’ The court ordered that a monetary sum of ‘$4000 each be paid to the rape victims.’ Whereas, ‘the relatives of the local journalist murdered were to receive 51 cattle,’ as a compensatory measure. The sentences delivered ‘ranged from seven years to life imprisonment.’

The verdict has been met with mixed reactions, both of which appear valid in their argument. Turning first to the international sphere, the importance of the decision as a crucial stepping stone was voiced by ‘Amnesty International who called it a first step towards fighting impunity in the war-torn country.’ However, ‘a lawyer representing the rape survivors’ expressed grave disappointment at the nature and substance of the verdict, which appeared feeble in the face of the heinous crimes committed. As such, ‘Issa Sebit, lawyer for the victims, purported that the compensation offered was “very embarrassing and was an insult to the victims.”’

In agreeing with the disappointment and dismay expressed by the prosecuting lawyer regarding the nature of compensatory damages awarded, it is purported that in order to do greater justice by the victims, the sum awarded ought to have been substantially greater, in both cases of monetary and non-monetary damages, that being the cattle. And to that end, a statement by the court acknowledging that whilst the compensatory damages are an important part of justice processes, that they will never ultimately be adequate enough to remedy the distress suffered by the individuals, their families and their communities. Arguably, the dismissal nature of the compensation awarded reinforces the enforcement of law and order in the country is still in its foundational stages. As such, there is clearly great room for progress to be achieved.

The assault was not targeted, nor premeditated, but appears to have been driven strongly by animalistic war-like mentality. The events which unfolded did so in Terrain Hotel. In his testimony, ‘hotel manager Mike Woodward stated that between 50 and 100 soldiers had entered the compound and raped five women.’ The cruelty showcased by these uniformed men ‘lasted for several hours, and included beating, torture and mock executions.’ Furthermore, to add to the disparity of the situation, call for help went unanswered ‘despite the fact that UN peacekeepers were based near the hotel.’ If the country is to see brighter days ahead, it is important that its own military men take responsibility for their actions, as such grave security concerns have impeded the delivery of ‘food aid and medicine to millions of people affected by the conflict.’

It is very important, so as to enforce peace and security in the region that military forces are held accountable for their actions and strongly disciplined, in order to push this young nation state towards the achievement of stability. The acts committed were unspeakable, and to a large extent I stand in agreement with the dismay expressed by the prosecuting lawyer, as the monetary damages offered do not appear to acknowledge the severity of the crime and its far-reaching implications upon the families and communities of those harmed. The courtroom is a place of justice, a sanctuary, which acknowledges the voice, pain and suffering of those wronged and brutalized.

Although a guilty verdict was delivered, it is important that matters such as this, when bought to the judicial fora, ought to be adjudicated with greater discernment, by actually imposing a punishment that commensurates with the severity of the crime.  Thus, in concluding remarks, ‘calls for the establishment of a special court to try war crimes’ is strongly supported.

Nat Kumar