Perpetrators of violence against civilians at Terrain Hotel held accountable for their crimes
The finding of a military court that 10 soldiers were guilty of committing violence against civilians at the Terrain Hotel in Juba, South Sudan, has finally delivered justice for the survivors and the family of the journalist murdered in the attack.
The judges delivered their verdict today and handed down lengthy prison terms for murder, rape and other crimes. The court also ordered the government to pay damages to the victims.
The victims and survivors of this horrific attack in July 2016 deserved justice and that has been served today. However, according to evidence raised during the trial, questions remain about whether accountability for these crimes reached high enough up the chain of command.
While the guilty verdicts handed down will not take away the pain and suffering caused by the appalling acts of violence carried out by these criminals, it is important that they have finally been held publicly accountable. The outcome of the trial also sends a powerful message to other would-be offenders, including members of the armed forces, that they will be prosecuted and punished for such violence.
The witnesses and survivors demonstrated true courage and patience by participating in the judicial process which began back in May 2017. There were some significant challenges throughout the process, including the detention conditions of the defendants, some impediments to the defendants’ access to counsel, and the trial of these crimes against civilians in a military rather than civilian court.
However, as the trial progressed, there was a willingness to adopt new procedures, including allowing testimony to be given via video link to facilitate witnesses and survivors unable or unwilling to attend the trial in person and using closed sessions to prevent public disclosure of witness’ identities.
This trial brought to justice offenders involved in the particular case of the Terrain Hotel where international workers were targeted. However, there remains the broader problem of widespread sexual and gender-based violence against South Sudanese women and children. Most cases go unreported and there remains widespread impunity.
UNMISS is committed to working with authorities in South Sudan to address some of the challenges observed during this trial and support efforts to improve the independence and effectiveness of the justice system so that many more victims of sexual and other violence can also have their day in court.