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South Sudan Rape Victims Demand Justice

FILE - South Sudanese soldiers listen to the guilty verdict being delivered Sept. 6, 2018, at their trial for rape and murder in a violent rampage in 2016 at a Juba hotel.

International aid workers who were raped in South Sudan during an attack on a hotel in Juba say the government of President Salva Kiir has ignored their appeals for compensation and damages.

The aid workers were attacked at the Terrain Hotel in July 2016 by the South Sudan army.

One of the victims, called Jane to protect her privacy, spoke Monday to VOA's South Sudan In Focus. She said the international community should put pressure on the South Sudan government to compensate the victims.

"What was very sad for us is that we discovered [the] file of the court martial, the entire file, went missing. The verdict was pronounced without this file, and when we tried to appeal for the compensation, we couldn't," she said.

Last year, a South Sudan military court sentenced 10 soldiers to prison for raping the aid workers and murdering local journalist John Gatluak in the 2016 attack. The court also ordered the government to compensate the victims.

The Terrain Hotel was awarded $2.5 million. Gatluak's family was awarded 51 cows in compensation for his death. The three rape victims and two other victims of abuse were awarded $4,000 each. An American aid worker who was beaten and shot and now has permanent spinal damage was awarded $1,000.

"We wanted to appeal because the compensation was ridiculous, and it was an offense for us," said Jane. "Without our file, we can't appeal.''

The U.S. Embassy in Juba released a statement in September 2018 welcoming the verdicts, but urged South Sudan officials to prosecute others who have committed human rights abuses during the five-year conflict.

The embassy said the United States would "continue to utilize tools, including targeted sanctions, to take action against those who attempt to sow chaos, work against peace and commit serious human rights abuses in South Sudan."

Jane said the international community must step up the pressure to allow the victims to appeal.

"It is like this incident, this terrible incident, was completely forgotten. In any case, rape cases are still on the rise in South Sudan,'' she said.

'They killed me from the inside'

Jane said she went back to South Sudan last year to testify because she wanted to be the voice for the other women who cannot face the government or are afraid to seek justice.

A group of human rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against the government of South Sudan last year for sexual violence on behalf of 30 women and girls who were allegedly raped by members of the army and the presidential guard. Antonia Mulvey, director of Legal Action Worldwide, a nonprofit network of human rights lawyers, said the South Sudan army committed "brutal" sexual violence, including sexual slavery, sexual torture, rape and gang rape against women and girls.

"They raped us. They beat us. I am still recovering. I can't work. I need continuous therapy," said Jane. "They killed me from the inside, and I have a permanent invisible scar on me. Four thousand dollars [in compensation] for these big atrocities? I [will] continue to fight. They must give us real compensation. We need to show to the world that the [rape] problem is a real crime.''

VOA requested an interview with a minister in the South Sudan presidential office, but he was unavailable.

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    John Tanza

    John Tanza works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is the managing editor and host of the  South Sudan In Focus radio program.
    Before joining VOA, John worked in Nairobi, Kenya where he established the first independent radio station (Sudan Radio Service) for the people of Sudan. He has covered several civil wars both in Sudan and South Sudan and has been engaged in the production of civic education materials for creating awareness about post conflict issues facing Sudanese and South Sudanese. John has interviewed South Sudan President Salva Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, Vice President Wani Igga, leader of Sudan’s Umma Party Sadiq Al Mahdi in addition to other senior United Nations and U.S government officials in South Sudan and Washington. His travels have taken him across to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria, DRC Congo and parts East Africa where he reported on the South Sudanese diaspora and the challenges facing them.
    A South Sudanese national, John enjoys listening to music from all over the world, reads academic books, watches documentaries and listens to various radio stations on the internet.  You can follow John on Twitter at @Abusukon