At least 26 South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) soldiers have been convicted by a district court-martial in Yei River County of Central Equatoria State on Monday. Seven other soldiers were acquitted.
The soldiers who have been in detention for months and undergoing trial were accused of committing crimes against civilians including murder, rape, and looting, and, loss of firearms and ammunition.
A military-civil relations and information officer Lt. Colonel Michael Machar said most of the accused soldiers have been dismissed from the military under article 85, of the 2009 SPLA Act.
He added that the soldiers found guilty of rape have been sentenced to a period of not less than five years in a civilian prison, while those found guilty of murder against civilians will be tried in Juba court-martial.
Machar also revealed that some of the SSPDF soldiers have been set free by the court due to a lack of substantial evidence and have been reinstated back into active military service.
“The crimes committed by the 33 soldiers included 4 cases of looting, 13 rape cases, and loss of firearms and 3 cases of grievous harm and 26 were convicted on different charges. 7 soldiers have been released due to lack of evidence. Some soldiers have been stripped off their ranks and dismissed from the army, their cases will be handled in a civilian court because they are no longer part of the army,” explained Machar.
Brigadier General John Lual army commander of the SSPDF in Yei said the verdict is a clear warning to other soldiers not to repeat similar crimes in the future.
“This is a message we are sending to all the soldiers here that they should do the right thing and that is why we made this verdict public for people to understand that we implement laws in the army and we don’t want the rest of the army to repeat such crimes,” he warned.
Wafa Khamis a public prosecutor in Yei River County welcomed the military court ruling and appreciated the army leadership for following the rule of law in the trials.
“This court ruling did not come out of nothing; it came out of hard struggle and we need to thank our commander John Lual for the good work done because it is the first of its kind in the defunct Yei River State. As public lawyers, our work is to defend the rights of the civilians whose rights have been violated,” he said.
Speaking at the same event, Amule Felix Sosten, the administrator for the defunct Yei River State government also appreciated the good work done by the military court judges in ensuring that justice is served.
The verdict was announced publicly in the presence of military and civil judges, civilians, victims and survivors, government officials, religious leaders, the military, government officials, international and national human rights observers.
CEPO welcomes verdict
Edmund Yakani, head of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), welcomed the conviction of the government soldiers and congratulated the court-martial for holding accountable the soldiers for different crimes.
Yakani in a statement seen by NCMP on Radio Tamazuj website said the verdict is ‘a key milestone for demonstrating our military leadership standpoint on making justice prevail’.
“We are hoping that this remarkable decision will act as a strong lesson to the rest of the soldiers in various security and defense institutions of the country,” he continued.
Yakani further urged the prison and security authorities to ensure that the convicts serve their full terms without favor or compromise appealing for a replication of the same across the country.