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South Sudan: appeals in Juba hotel rape and murder case blocked due to missing file

Today marks one year since ten soldiers were convicted of raping at least five aid workers and murdering a journalist in Terrain Hotel  

‘After the compensation was awarded, I felt violated again, I felt raped again by the justice system’ - Sabrina Prioli, one of the rape survivors

‘Unfathomably cruel’ to block the quest for justice – Seif Magango, Amnesty

A missing case file is blocking appeals in the case of the 2016 Terrain Hotel attack in Juba, South Sudan, in which a local journalist was killed and at least five aid workers raped, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Legal Action Worldwide said today (6 Spetember).

Today marks one year since ten soldiers were convicted of the July 2016 attack, and since the missing case file, which included the judgment, was sent to President Salva Kiir for confirmation. The file has not been seen since. UN officials and diplomats strongly suspect the file was lost in the Office of the President. For the case to proceed on appeal, a complete record of the case is required.

Last September, the rape and sexual assault survivors and the family of John Gatluak Manguet, the journalist killed in the attack, appealed against the court’s decision to award USD $4,000 to each of the survivors, and 51 cows to the journalist’s family. They argued that the compensation was not proportionate to the crimes and the physical and mental trauma they have endured since the attack. The convicted soldiers also filed their intention to appeal against the conviction.

Sabrina Prioli, one of the rape survivors, said:

“After the compensation was awarded, I felt violated again, I felt raped again by the justice system. Now we appeal because we want a formal compensation system that takes into account the gravity of the crime.”

Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s East Africa Deputy Director, said:  

“The victims of this heinous attack and their families have suffered so much already – it’s unfathomably cruel to prolong their quest for justice.”

Antonia Mulvey, founder and executive director of Legal Action Worldwide, said:

“It is outrageous that a year after the conviction, the parties’ appeals cannot be heard because of the missing case file. The authorities should ensure that there are no deliberate attempts to obstruct justice and locate the file, so the Supreme Court can examine the appeal.”

Jehanne Henry, Human Rights Watch’s associate Africa director, said:

“While the trial of the soldiers in the Terrain case is a first step, the justice process isn’t finished yet. The disappearance of the case file has effectively stalled the appeal process and serves as a classic example of the justice system failures that exacerbate the culture of impunity in South Sudan.”

While last year’s convictions were an important first step toward accountability for human rights violations in South Sudan, the authorities must ensure that justice takes its full course. Under South Sudanese law, trials involving crimes against civilians should be heard by civilian courts, not military courts, as the Terrain Hotel case was. The authorities must ensure that the victims get their right to a remedy and the accused their right to a fair trial, the groups said.

Rape cases in South Sudan

The appeal could set a precedent for future prosecutions in rape cases in South Sudan, where sexual violence is widespread and has been used as a weapon of war since 2013. Many people and children have been raped, abducted, and forcibly mutilated. Their cases have not been effectively investigated and those responsible have not been brought to justice.

In one example, survivors of rape by government forces in the village of Kubi, on the outskirts of Juba, have been waiting for justice since February 2017. In another, the government dismissed reports last November of rapes in Bentiu, in the northern part of the country as “false”, despite evidence indicating clear patterns of sexual attacks by armed men.

On 23 August 2019, the chief justice of South Sudan, Chan Reec Madut, told the media that plans were underway to establish a special court for gender-based violence, which would handle both domestic violence cases and cases involving serious human rights violations.

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