South Sudan soldiers accused of rape, murder of aid workers appear in court

Peter Malwal Deng (R) of the defense of the accused, speaks beside the accused in the dock on May 30, 2017 in Juba as a South Sudan military court opened the trial of 13 soldiers accused of raping foreign aid workers and murdering a local journalist during fighting in Juba last July. (AFP / Samir Bol)
Updated 30 May 2017
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South Sudan soldiers accused of rape, murder of aid workers appear in court

NAIROBI: Thirteen South Sudanese soldiers accused of raping five foreign aid workers and killing their local colleague appeared before a military court on Tuesday, a case seen as a test of the government’s ability to try war crimes.
The attack, one of the worst on aid workers in South Sudan’s civil war, took place on July 11, 2016 as President Salva Kiir’s troops won a three-day battle in Juba over opposition forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar.
Witnesses told Reuters at the time that armed men attacked the Terrain Hotel in the capital Juba for several hours. Victims phoned UN peacekeepers stationed a mile away and begged for help, but none came, the witnesses said.
The military head of the UN peacekeeping mission was fired and the political head resigned over the incident.
“What is concerned here for the court is to address the case in a proper way,” Chief Prosecutor Abukuk Mohammed Ramadan said in opening remarks.
UN investigators and rights group have frequently accused both the army and rebels of murder, torture and rape since the civil war began in 2013, and say the crimes almost always go unpunished.
Describing the incident, the manager of the Terrain Hotel, Mike Woodward, told the court that “between 50 to 100” soldiers arrived in the hotel in the afternoon of July 11 and began looting an hour later.
“Five women working with humanitarian organizations were then raped. John Gatluak was shot at 6:15 pm,” Woodward said.
Peter Malual, the defendants’ lawyer, dismissed the charges saying evidence provided by Woodward was not sufficient to prove the allegations.
“What I know the area was under operation at the time and rebels were controlling the area,” Malual said.
Prosecutors told Reuters the murderers face a minimum of 10 years in jail with a fine paid to the victim’s family, or a maximum of the death penalty. Rapists face up to 14 years.
The three-year conflict has fractured the country along ethnic lines — Kiir is an ethnic Dinka, Machar is a Nuer — and forced a quarter of the 12 million-strong population to flee their homes.
Court officials said the trial would resume on June 6.


White House threatens to veto aid bill for migrant families

Updated 25 June 2019
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White House threatens to veto aid bill for migrant families

  • Hispanic and liberal Democrats press House leaders to add provisions to the legislation strengthening protections for migrant children
  • Many House Democrats say the Senate version’s provisions aimed at helping migrant children are not strong enough

WASHINGTON: The White House is threatening to veto a $4.5 billion House bill aimed at improving the treatment of migrant families detained after crossing the US southern border, saying the measure would hamstring the administration’s border security efforts and raising fresh questions about the legislation’s fate.
The warning came as Hispanic and liberal Democrats press House leaders to add provisions to the legislation strengthening protections for migrant children, changes that might make the measure even less palatable to President Donald Trump. Though revisions are possible, House leaders are still hoping for approval as early as Tuesday.
The Senate planned to vote this week on similar legislation that has bipartisan backing, but many House Democrats say the Senate version’s provisions aimed at helping migrant children are not strong enough. House Democrats seeking changes met late Monday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“Right now, the goal is really to stop — one death is just too much,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., as he left that meeting.
Many children detained entering the US from Mexico have been held under harsh conditions, and Customs and Border Protection Chief Operating Officer John Sanders told The Associated Press last week that children have died after being in the agency’s care. He said Border Patrol stations are holding 15,000 people — more than triple their maximum capacity of 4,000.
Congress plans to leave Washington in a few days for a weeklong July 4 recess. While lawmakers don’t want to depart without acting on the legislation for fear of being accused of not responding to humanitarian problems at the border, it seems unlikely that Congress would have time to send a House-Senate compromise to Trump by week’s end.
In a letter Monday threatening the veto, White House officials told lawmakers they objected that the House package lacked money for beds the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency needs to let it detain more migrants. Officials also complained in the letter that the bill had no money to toughen border security, including funds for building Trump’s proposed border wall.
“Because this bill does not provide adequate funding to meet the current crisis, and because it contains partisan provisions designed to hamstring the Administration’s border enforcement efforts, the Administration opposes its passage,” the letter said.
Several Democrats said some language they were seeking could end up in separate legislation. Several said changes might include provisions aimed at ensuring that detained children are treated humanely.
“We’ve got lives at stake,” said Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif. He said the US has been “the gold standard” for treating refugees fleeing dangerous countries, “and I don’t think we should compromise that at all.”
The meeting may have helped ease Democratic complaints. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told reporters before the meeting that she would oppose the bill but left the door open afterward, saying, “I oppose the situation we’re in, but my main goal is to keep kids from dying.”
Much of the legislation’s money would help care for migrants at a time when federal officials say their agencies have been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants and are running out of funds.
The back-and-forth on the spending measure came as Congress’ top Democrats criticized Trump for threatening coast-to-coast deportations of migrants.
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that he would give Congress two weeks to solve “the Asylum and Loopholes problems” along the border with Mexico. “If not, Deportations start!” he tweeted.
The president had earlier warned that there would soon be a nationwide sweep aimed at “millions” of people living illegally in the US, including families. The sweeps were supposed to begin Sunday, but Trump said he postponed them.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said the threatened raids were “appalling” when she was asked about them at an immigration event Monday in Queens, New York.
“It is outside the circle of civilized human behavior, just kicking down doors, splitting up families and the rest of that in addition to the injustices that are happening at the border,” she said.
On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described Trump’s “chilling, nasty, obnoxious threats” and said the president “seems far more comfortable terrorizing immigrant families” than addressing immigration problems.
“I mean, my God, to threaten separating children from their parents as a bargaining chip? That’s the very definition of callousness,” Schumer said.
It is not clear exactly what Trump, who has started his 2020 re-election bid, means regarding asylum and loophole changes. He’s long been trying to restrict the numbers of people being allowed to enter the US after claiming asylum and impose other restrictions, a path he’s followed since he began his quest for president years ago. His threatened deportations came as authorities have been overwhelmed by a huge increase of migrants crossing the border into the US in recent months.
For years, Democrats and Republicans have unable to find middle ground on immigration that can pass Congress. It seems unlikely they will suddenly find a solution within two weeks.