South Sudan Troops Jailed For Rape, Murder

South Sudanese soldiers behind bars wait for their verdicts at the military court in Juba, on September 6, 2018. The military court found 10 soldiers guilty of raping five foreign aid workers and murdering a local journalist during fighting in Juba in July 2016. Akuot CHOL / AFP


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 gang-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 last October 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.

Gang-rape and mock executions 

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 some 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 July fighting.

The court on Thursday ruled that South Sudan‘s government must pay compensation of $4,000 (3,440 euros) to each rape victim, and more than $2 million to Woodward for damage to his property.

Gatluak’s family will be compensated with 51 head of cattle.

 ‘Step towards ending impunity’ 

“The leadership of the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) would like to issue an apology to the victims,” army spokesman Colonel 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 immediately after the conflict — getting them took long.”

Last year a victim from Italy returned to testify, while six others who were raped or sexually harassed gave testimony via video link, Domic said.

Woodward welcomed the verdict.

“I am very happy that the criminals have gone to prison, I think that is a good thing. I am happy that the family of the victim who was murdered… got compensated,” he told AFP.

Defence lawyer Peter Malual said he would appeal the verdict, claiming that under South Sudanese law it was illegal to send a soldier to jail for murder when the victim’s family had received compensation.

Both government troops and rebel forces have been accused of atrocities — including widespread, brutal rape — in South Sudan‘s civil war which began in 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup.

The Terrain trial was a rare example of justice in the conflict, which some observers attribute to the unusual presence of foreign victims.

“After much foot dragging, today’s convictions and sentences represent a first step towards ending chronic impunity in South Sudan,” said regional Amnesty International chief Seif Magango.

In a statement the US embassy in Juba urged the government to hold accountable those responsible for numerous other violent attacks that have killed tens of thousands and “rampant sexual violence”.

“At least 107 aid workers and 13 journalists have been killed trying to help the South Sudanese people or cover the conflict in South Sudan since it started in December 2013,” the statement read.


Thousands Arrive To Collect Food Supplies In South Sudan’s Nyal


At the muddy airstrip in Nyal, an opposition-held town in war-ravaged South Sudan, thousands of people have come to collect the first food supplies to have been dropped there in three months.

Supplies were dropped on Sunday and Monday by the United Nations World Food Programme, which said it expected 30,000 people will have come by the time it has delivered the final drop on Tuesday.

The food was shared out before the people went back home through the marshy surroundings of the Sudd swamp carrying supplies on their heads or in boats.

The UN has been dropping food supplies in Nyal every three months since 2014. The town is unsafe to reach by road, with attacks on humanitarian agencies common.

An annual study on trends of violence against humanitarian groups ranked South Sudan as the world’s most dangerous country for aid workers.

Nyal and the dozens of nearby islands in the swamp have become an adopted home for thousands of people since war began in 2013 following a dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president turned rebel leader Riek Machar.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed, a third of the population have fled their homes and the country’s oil-dependent economy has been wrecked.

Earlier this month, Kiir and Machar signed a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in Khartoum — the latest internationally-brokered attempt to end the war in a country that gained independence in 2011 after a bitter struggle.


South Sudan President Kiir Grants Machar, Other Rebels Amnesty


President Salva Kiir granted a general amnesty to rebels in South Sudan’s civil war, including his former deputy Riek Machar, as a rights organisation said authorities in Africa’s youngest country should also free its critics.

The amnesty order was read out on state-run television late on Wednesday, three days after Kiir, SPLM-IO leader Machar and the heads of other groups signed a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

A political row between Kiir and Machar degenerated in 2013 into a war that has killed tens of thousands, forced a quarter of the population to flee their homes and wrecked the country’s oil-dependent economy.

The conflict has often been fought along ethnic lines. Previous deals to end it have failed, including one in 2015 that briefly halted hostilities but fell apart after Machar returned to the capital Juba the following year.

SPLM-IO is the largest of the rebel groups fighting Kiir’s government, and fighters allied to it control several areas close to the capital. Other anti-government groups have also emerged, some of which have fought against each other.

Human Rights Watch called on Thursday for the release of a number of government critics jailed by the intelligence services, including Peter Biar Ajak, a prominent economist who has criticised both sides in the war.

“South Sudanese authorities should release everyone being held arbitrarily and change the way the national security agency operates,” Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at the New York-based rights organisation said in a statement.

Biar, a country director for the London School of Economics’ International Growth Centre and a former World Bank economist, was arrested by officers of the agency in July.


South Sudan Government, Rebels Reach Peace Deal


The President of South Sudan and head of the country’s main rebel group signed a final cease-fire and power-sharing agreement on Sunday and hailed a new longed-for era of peace in the country.

“I call on everyone as a leader of South Sudan that this agreement which we have signed today should be the end of the war and the conflict in our country,” said President Salva Kiir.

South Sudan’s former vice president and rebel leader Riek Machar said after the signing, “today we celebrate, not just in South Sudan, but throughout the world.”

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011, but civil war broke out two years later between the government led by Kiir and a rebel movement led by Machar.

Fuelled by personal and ethnic rivalries, the conflict has killed tens of thousands, displaced an estimated quarter of South Sudan’s population of 12 million and ruined its economy that heavily relies on crude oil production.

“An agreement on outstanding issues has been signed and this agreement expresses the commitment of all parties to a ceasefire,” the foreign minister of neighbouring Sudan, Al-Dirdiri Mohamed said on Sudan state television.

Sudan helped broker the agreement.

South Sudan’s President Says New Peace Deal Will Not Collapse

South Sudan


South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said on Friday he believed the new peace deal between his government and the main rebel group would not collapse because it was not forced upon them like previous accords.

At a news conference in Juba, Kiir said he would travel to Khartoum to sign the agreement at the ceremony on Sunday. His arch foe Riek Machar, leader of the SPLM-IO rebel group which has fought Kiir’s forces intermittently since 2013, is also expected to attend.

Fuelled by personal and ethnic rivalries, the conflict has killed tens of thousands, displaced an estimated quarter of South Sudan’s population of 12 million and ruined its economy that heavily relies on crude oil production.

Previous peace agreements, the most recent in 2015, held for only a matter of months before fighting resumed. Kiir put this down to external influences. Both the 2015 and the 2018 agreements were mediated by Sudan and other East African nations.

“The 2015 (deal) was forced on us, we were not given the opportunity to express our desire. This is why when I came sign… I gave my reservations,” Kiir said.

“People didn’t take me seriously until the agreement collapsed in their face.” But the new deal would not suffer the same fate, Kiir told reporters.

“This agreement (2018) will not collapse and I am sure that it will not collapse because the people of South Sudan have now agreed that they must make peace among themselves,” he said.

Negotiations for the peace deal had been completed and any outstanding issues with his opponents would be settled after signing of the deal, Kiir said.

The conflict has also been driven by ethnic divisions — Kiir and Machar come from Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups respectively.

Some smaller opposition groups have expressed doubts over the new deal. The SPLM has said it contains several shortfalls, including a “serious lack of consistency in allocating power-sharing ratios at all levels of governance”.

Kiir’s side will take 20 slots in the new 35-member government, while Machar’s SPLM-IO and other smaller opposition groups will take the rest.

“I am going to sign,” Kiir told journalists. “The agreement is in place and we will remain committed … and will implement (it),” he said.

South Sudan Spends $16m For Lawmakers’ Car Purchase

South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir.                                                                        Credit: Getty Images


400 Lawmakers in South Sudan came under fire on Thursday after it was announced they would receive $40,000 car loans.

The amount comes when more than half the population depends on food aid.

A presidential spokesman defended the $16m expenditure, saying MPs could not be expected to “use motorbikes”.

Critics have accused the government of rewarding MPs two weeks after they voted to extend President Salva Kiir’s term to 2021.

The government says elections cannot be held because of the ongoing civil war.

Parliamentarians’ salaries are just 9,000 South Sudanese pounds ($50) so it is unclear how they would be able to repay such a large debt, although MPs have been pushing for a pay rise.

“The money should have been used for fixing roads. I don’t think it is a good idea giving that $40,000 (34,000 euros) to one person. That $40,000 is a lot to South Sudanese currently,” said Paul Kenyi, a motorcycle trader in the capital Juba.

A lawmaker and a parliament spokesman both independently confirmed the scheme to AFP.

South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011, has been gripped by civil war, including fighting within the national army.

The war has left the oil-rich country’s economy in ruins, agriculture heavily disrupted and civil servants unpaid for months.

Seven million South Sudanese, more than half of the population, will need food aid in 2018, the United Nations says.

“One would wonder as to how they will pay it back,” said University of Juba economics professor and former deputy finance minister Marial Awou.

“This will trigger a series of demands for salary increases which the country cannot afford at this time.”


South Sudan Govt, Opposition Group Sign Peace Deal

File Photo: South Sudan’s map


South Sudan’s government and the main rebel group inked a power-sharing deal in the Sudanese capital on Wednesday which they hope will end years of conflict, a Reuters witness said, but smaller opposition groups have refrained from signing.

Riek Machar, a former vice president who will be reinstated into his old post under the deal, was in the room when the agreement was signed by representatives of the government and his group at a security compound in Khartoum.

The agreement, which was reached earlier this month in talks in Uganda, provides for creating a new 35-member government comprising 20 ministers from the current government of President Salva Kiir. Machar’s SPLM-IO rebel group will have nine portfolios and the rest will go to other opposition groups.

Apart from Machar, Kiir will have four more deputies during an interim period under the agreement that was guided by Sudan and other East African nations.

But another opposition group, the SPLM, said in a statement the latest version of the proposed agreement contained several shortfalls, including a “serious lack of consistency in allocating power-sharing ratios at all levels of governance”.

It also cited “lack of clarity” on whether to dissolve a transitional legislature or to expand it to make it more inclusive.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed acknowledged some issues needed more work, including how to share power in local government administration.

South Sudan descended into a civil war that ravaged the country in 2013 after a political disagreement between Machar and Kiir pushed them apart.

Several attempts to end the conflict have ended in failure.

South Sudanese Foes Sign ‘Preliminary’ Power-Sharing Deal


South Sudanese arch-foes on Wednesday signed a “preliminary” power-sharing deal, with a Sudanese minister saying it reinstates rebel leader Riek Machar as first vice president in a bid to end the civil war. 

“Salva Kiir will continue as president of South Sudan and Riek Machar will be the first vice president,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed said at a ceremony held in Khartoum to sign the accord.

“There will be four other vice presidents shared between other political groups,” said Ahmed, announcing the details of a much-delayed power-sharing pact between South Sudan’s warring groups.


UN Places Arms Embargo On South Sudan

This file photo taken on April 13, 2018, shows a meeting of the UN Security Council at United Nations Headquarters in New York, on April 13, 2018. Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP


The United Nations Security Council on Friday imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions on two military officials, ratcheting up the pressure after the latest diplomatic efforts failed to end nearly five years of war.

The council narrowly adopted a US-drafted resolution with the backing of nine countries. Russia, China and four other countries abstained.

The United States had lobbied hard to win votes for the arms embargo after it failed in 2016 to persuade the council to back the measure and cut off the arms flow to South Sudan.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that support for the arms embargo will send a message to South Sudan’s leaders that “we are fed up with delays and stalling.”

“These are the weapons that armed groups used to shoot fathers in front of their wives and children, to hold up convoys of food aid, or to assault women and girls,” Haley told the council ahead of the vote.

A draft resolution requires nine votes and no veto to be adopted in the 15-member council.

Six countries abstain

South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011, with critical backing from the United States, which remains Juba’s biggest aid donor.

Countless efforts have failed to bring peace to the country now in its fifth year of a war, which has seen ethnic killings, gang rapes and other atrocities documented by UN rights officials.

“Armed groups in South Sudan are literally burning people alive and hanging them from trees. This is barbaric,” Haley said.

Ethiopian Ambassador Tekeda Alemu, whose country is leading a regional peace effort, opposed the arms embargo, arguing that it could undermine the fragile diplomacy at work.

“Without prudence and patience whatever human rights violations there are today, they could be even worse. Averting the worse is our objective,” Alemu told the council.

Aside from Russia and China, Ethiopia abstained along with Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, Bolivia.

Many of the countries that abstained stressed that the African Union and the regional IGAD grouping did not support the punitive measures and had appealed for more time to allow peace efforts to yield results.

South Sudan’s Ambassador Akuei Bona Malwal called the resolution “a slap in the face” of IGAD and the African Union and suggested that it would play in the opposition’s hands.

A first step

The resolution expressed “deep concern at the failures of South Sudan’s leaders to bring an end to the hostilities” and imposes the arms embargo until May 2019.

Former military chief Paul Malong Awan and Malek Ruben Riak, a former deputy chief of general staff for logistics, were added to the UN sanctions blacklist, hit by a global visa ban and assets freeze.

South Sudan descended into civil war in late 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused former vice president Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

Tens of thousands have been killed and millions have been uprooted. Seven million South Sudanese — more than half of the population — are in need of food aid, according to the UN.

Led by Ethiopia, efforts have intensified over recent weeks for talks between Kiir and Machar but the latest ceasefire agreed by the sides failed to take hold.

South Sudan’s parliament voted this week to allow Kiir to remain in power until 2021, a move that will complicate negotiations with Machar on a power-sharing deal.

Diplomats said Cote d’Ivoire and Kuwait, two non-permanent members, came under strong US pressure to back the arms embargo, with Washington appealing directly to the governments in their capitals.

Human rights groups applauded the decision, saying it was overdue.

“The Security Council delivered a small dose of accountability and leverage today in support of peace,” said John Prendergast, director of the Enough Project, a US-based organization.

“It’s not sufficient, but without this as a first step, peace has no chance in South Sudan.”


South Sudan Government Forces, Allies Killed Hundreds Of Civilians – UN



At least 232 civilians were killed and 120 women and girls raped in “scorched earth” attacks by South Sudan government troops and aligned forces in opposition-held villages earlier this year, the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday.

A United Nations investigation identified three commanders suspected of bearing the “greatest responsibility” in the violence in Unity state between April 16 and May 24 that may amount to war crimes, it said in a report.

Elderly and disabled civilians were burned alive in the attack on 40 villages, which appeared aimed at driving out opposition forces, it said. A further 132 women and girls were abducted in the assault that forced 31,140 people to flee.

“The perpetrators …must not be allowed to get away with it,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein in a statement.

Reiterating his call on the government and African Union to establish a hybrid court for South Sudan, he said the soldiers and aligned forces slit elderly villagers’ throats, hanged women for resisting looting and shot fleeing civilians.

“The brutality and ruthlessness of the attackers as described by the survivors suggests that their intent was to take a ‘scorched earth’ approach, killing or forcibly displacing people, burning their crops and homes, punishing and terrorising them to ensure that they never return,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a briefing.

Ex-South Sudan Vice President To Be Re-Instated In His Position – Presidency


South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar is to be reinstated in his position as part of a peace deal to end a near five-year-old war that has devastated Africa’s youngest nation, the presidential press unit said in a statement on Sunday.

The agreement was reached in talks held in Entebbe in Uganda mediated by President Yoweri Miseveni and attended by South Sudan President Salva Kiir, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and Machar, the country’s presidency said in a statement.

“After a 10-hour-long meeting, the parties agreed … there will be four vice presidents and Dr Riek Machar will be reinstated as first vice president,” the statement said.

It added that although the government and the opposition had agreed to the proposal, “there will be more consultation to come up with the final decision”.

South Sudan has been gripped by civil war since 2013, when a political disagreement between Kiir and Machar exploded into a military confrontation.

Puok Both Baluang, the opposition SPLM-IO’s deputy spokesman, told Reuters they had no immediate comment on the statement from the presidency.

The war, which has mostly seen Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group pitted against each other, has killed tens of thousands, uprooted about a quarter of the country’s population of 12 million and slashed oil production, on which the economy depends almost entirely.

The agreement on Machar’s position marks a potential breakthrough in new efforts mediated by regional leaders to find a power-sharing and peace agreement to end the war.

A similar deal in 2015 failed the following year after Machar returned to the capital and disagreements quickly developed, reigniting fighting.

On Friday the government and opposition signed an agreement on security arrangements which follow on from a ceasefire deal last month, both crucial steps toward a final peace pact.

Gunmen Attack South Sudan Humanitarian Convoy, Kill Driver – UNICEF

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 Unidentified gunmen on Wednesday attacked a convoy of humanitarian trucks belonging to a contractor of U.N. children’s agency UNICEF north of South Sudan’s capital Juba, killing one person, according to the agency.

Africa’s youngest nation has been gripped for nearly five years by a conflict triggered by a political disagreement between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

“We have received reports that two trucks belonging to a UNICEF contractor were assaulted by armed men,” UNICEF said in a statement to Reuters, adding one person, an assistant driver, was killed in the attack near Mangalla town.

The agency said it was still trying to verify the name and nationality of the victim but condemned “this senseless attack directed against unarmed civilians working to deliver humanitarian supplies to those in need.”

Elario Paul Fataki, a local government official in the area where the attack occurred, told Reuters the assault occurred about five km (three miles) from the town of Mangalla.

Attacks on humanitarian convoys and personnel have been frequent in South Sudan’s conflict and both warring sides have been blamed. At least 100 charity workers have been killed in the country since the war started in December 2013.