The judge says the members of the South Sudan People Defence Forces (SSPDF) were arrested and convicted of committing crimes including rape, looting, killing and selling personal weapons.
(African Stand) — A court-martial in South Sudan’s town of Yei, Central Equatoria State, has sentenced 24 soldiers to several terms in prison for crimes against humanity and other offences.
The judge says the members of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) were arrested and convicted of committing crimes including rape, looting, killing, and selling personal weapons.
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The crimes were committed between 2019 and 2020 in the Yei River State.
In a court hearing presided over by Judge, Captain Joseph James on Friday, the officers were convicted following two to four months of the supply of conclusive evidence against them.
“Various SSPDF personnel, starting from the highest rank of lieutenant colonel to the lowest rank of private, were sentenced to several terms in prison,” said Gen Lul Ruai, SSPDF spokesperson.
“Most of them got the highest sentences of 14 years, with the lowest getting two years. This is an indication that we at the army don’t condone the commission of crimes against civilians and the government,”
Among the convicts is Thuch Majok, a caporal who was stripped to the rank of private, dismissed from the SSPDF, fined 500,000 pounds, and sentenced to 14 years in prison for rape.
Others include Sergeant Andria Aguer, Captain Joseph Luiz, Santino Garang Majok, James Mayuen, and Corporal Daniel Anyaya.
In 2017, nearly 40 rape cases were registered in four counties of the former Yei River State – now under Central Equatoria State – according to a women’s group leader.
In May, the UN Mission in South Sudan said it had launched investigations into the alleged rape of 19 women in Yei by men in uniform.
The UN’s move came after an assertion by a member of Parliament that the women were sexually assaulted between March and April.
According to Paul Yoane, the crimes took place in Otugo, Rebeke, Lasu, and Lobigo.
In response, the army said no one presented such allegations to the military headquarters, Bilpam in Juba.
Civilians in parts of Yei River have continued to bear the brunt of violence between government troops and forces of the armed opposition, the National Salvation Front, that is now in talks with the government in Rome, Italy.
Last year, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission said sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, abductions, and conscription of child soldiers in South Sudan, has increased in recent years.
Chapter Five of the 2018 peace deal mandates that the unity government shall initiate legislation for the establishment of an independent hybrid judicial body to try suspects of crimes committed during the civil war.
However, according to the human rights defender, the government seems unwilling to set up the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.
In December 2016, a UN team of human rights investigators said rape in South Sudan generally was “one of the tools being used in violence” and that sexual violence in the country “has reached epic proportions.”
But in March 2019, the then Minister of Defense said the commanding officers of the organised forces were to blame for the rampant violence against women across the country.