Rare conviction of South Sudan soldiers for rape raises hope

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YEI, South Sudan (AP) – First, the soldiers stole their property. Then they took their food. On their third and final visit, the woman said, soldiers raped her and her stepdaughter until they could no longer walk.

What sets these assaults in South Sudan apart from many other rapes committed by soldiers in the troubled country is this: The women took the men to court and won.

Ten years after South Sudan’s independence and two years after the end of its own deadly civil war, large-scale fighting has subsided, but clashes continue between communities and between the government and groups that have not. not signed the peace agreement – and the use of rape as a weapon remains rampant. Justice is extremely scarce, but the September conviction has raised hopes that such crimes will be increasingly prosecuted.

“I was traumatized,” the older of the two women, a 48-year-old mother of eight, told The Associated Press in Yei, a town in the southern state of central Equatoria where she now lives. The AP typically does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they grant permission, and the woman said she continued to fear for her safety and was too scared, for example, to return to his native village of Adio.

She said she found some solace seeing her two attackers convicted and sent to jail after reporting the rape in May to the South Sudanese army chief during his visit to her village. A new army chief of staff, responding to growing frustration over these crimes, sent military judges from the capital, Juba, to oversee the cases and those of 10 other women and girls who killed themselves. also manifested.

In the end, 26 soldiers were convicted, some for rape but others for crimes, including looting. It was the first time soldiers had been convicted of rape since the 2016 rampage at the Terrain Hotel, where five international aid workers were gang-raped and a local journalist was killed.

The military hopes the trial will be a warning to its troops.

“We apologize, we will not let this happen again, and we will arrest the people who do,” said Michael Machar Malual, head of civil-military relations for the army in central Equatoria state. A government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The woman hopes the verdict will encourage more survivors to speak out in a country where sexual assault is a scourge.

Some 65% of women and girls in South Sudan have been victims of sexual or physical violence, the United Nations Children’s Agency said in 2019.

Between July and September, the UN reported an 88 percent increase in conflict-related sexual violence from the previous quarter, even as overall violence fell. He said there were over 260 “violent incidents” in total during the period, but did not specify how many involved sexual violence.

Villages around Yei have been hit hard as fighting continues between government forces and the National Salvation Front, which has not signed the peace agreement.

Civilians say they are caught in the middle, with women often accused by soldiers of supporting rebels – and assaulted – especially if their husbands are away.

In February, three women and a 14-year-old girl were raped by soldiers about 40 kilometers from Yei, according to a report by the independent body overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement. A woman was gang raped while at gunpoint, according to the report.

When the PA visited Yei in December, civilians and soldiers said the situation was improving and there had been fewer reports of sexual violence since the trial. The once bustling city and neighboring villages are slowly …

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