South Sudan court jails soldiers for aid workers rape, journalist murder

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South Sudanese soldiers wait for their verdict at the military court in Juba, South Sudan, on September 6, 2018. (AFP)
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The verdicts for South Sudanese soldiers are announced at the military court in Juba, South Sudan, on September 6, 2018. (AFP)
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South Sudanese soldiers wait for their verdict at the military court in Juba, South Sudan, on September 6, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 06 September 2018
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South Sudan court jails soldiers for aid workers rape, journalist murder

  • Ten soldiers were found guilty for their role in an attack on a Juba hotel.
  • Five foreign aid workers were gang-raped, and a journalist was killed in the attack.

JUBA: 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 chilling 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.
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.
"One group proceeded straight to the bar and restaurant while another group continued to the residential area," he said.
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.
Woodward's testimony is supported by reports compiled by the UN and Human Rights Watch.
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 force's Kenyan commander was sacked.
The court on Thursday ruled that South Sudan's government must pay compensation of $4,000 (3,440 euros) to each rape victim, and over $2 million to Woodward for damage to his property.
Gatluak's family will be compensated with 51 head of cattle.
 


Priyanka standoff ends with visit to victims’ families

In this handout photo taken and released by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) Communication Department on July 19, 2019, Indian politician Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (2L) meets Sonbhadra massacre victims at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Trauma Centre in Varanasi. (AFP)
Updated 21 July 2019
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Priyanka standoff ends with visit to victims’ families

  • Priyanka Gandhi’s protest continued throughout Friday night while she demanded the right to visit the victims’ families

NEW DELHI: A political standoff over detained Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi ended on Saturday after she was allowed to meet relatives of 10 people killed in a caste clash in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress general secretary and sister of outgoing party president Rahul Gandhi was detained in Mirzapur on Friday while traveling to Sonbhadra to visit family members of 10 people shot and killed in a land dispute a day earlier.
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh, led by Yogi Adityanath, detained Gandhi for violating the peace and stopped her from traveling further. The Congress leader then began a sit-in protest with her supporters at the Mirzapur guest house where she was held.
Her protest continued throughout Friday night while she demanded the right to visit the victims’ families. Television images showed Gandhi sitting in the dark after power and water supplies in the guest house were allegedly cut off by the local administration.
Her presence in the area, which also falls in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency in Varanasi, galvanized Congress workers who staged protests across the state.
Early on Saturday, relatives of some of the victims visited the guest house to meet the 47-year-old leader of the Gandhi-Nehru family, India’s pre-eminent political dynasty.
“My objective has been served as I have met the victims of the shooting,” said Gandhi before calling off her protest.
“The responsibility for the Sonbhadra massacre lies with the Yogi government,” she said.
Gandhi told her supporters, “I will be back,” before flying to New Delhi.
The BJP has accused the Congress leader of playing politics over the shootings.
“Congress has a history of playing politics over dead bodies,” said Swatantra Dev Singh, BJP president in Uttar Pradesh.
“The drama should stop. That is what I will say to Priyanka. All the accused have been arrested, and the officials responsible have been suspended,” he said.
The fatal shootings in Sonbhadra, 800 km southeast of New Delhi, drew mainstream media attention only when the Congress leader arrived in the state.
Observers say that the killing of 10 socially marginalized and landless tribes people by members of the dominant caste has highlighted the fragile caste situation in India’s most populous state.
The people of Gond tribe have been working the disputed land for generations. According to reports, the village head wanted tribes people to vacate the farm land. This led to conflict, and on Friday more than 200 armed men attacked the helpless villagers, killing 10 and injuring several others.
Gandhi, who entered politics only a few months before the general elections in May this year, seized the opportunity to connect with the people.
For the BJP, Uttar Pradesh is the jewel in the crown. The state gave the party 62 of its 303 parliamentary seats, and it is determined to maintain its political grip.
Political analysts say that Gandhi is determined to revive the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh by 2022 when the state goes to the polls.
“Priyanka Gandhi handled the Sonbhadra incident in a mature way, exposing the ham-fisted attitude of the Yogi government,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi-based analyst and author.
“She also managed to expose the BJP’s class bias  and how the ruling party is protecting the interests of  dominant caste in the state,” said Mukhopadhyay.
“This incident gives the party a chance to go back to the people immediately after the huge loss in the elections,” Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.
Lucknow-based political analyst Ram Dutt Tripathi said that Gandhi has “shown her courage as a political leader willing to fight administrative injustice.”
“Her detention was illegal and the Congress has high hopes that she can lead the revival of the party,” said Tripathi.
“It is unfortunate that the state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has not visited relatives of the victims so far and is putting restrictions on political opponents who want to stand with them,” he said.