By Malek Arol
United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has commended the concrete steps taken by the government of South Sudan convicting armed personnel involved in crimes against civil population.
South Sudan Peoples’ Defense Forces (SSPDF) takes the credit in particularly for pursuit of justice and accountability for survivors of serious crimes in Yei River County of Central Equatoria State.
The UNMISS compliment followed the conclusion of a military court martial in Yei, in which South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) sentenced at least 11 soldiers for various crimes.
Nicholas Hayson is the Head of UNMISS and the Special Representative of the UN’s Secretary General in South Sudan.
He commended the SSPDF’s efforts to improve and identify ways to strengthen accountability among the armed forces, implement best practices, and build trust with affected communities.
“The work of the GCM has created a demand for justice and is a concrete step forward in combating impunity” Hayson added.
On June 16, 2023, a General Court Martial (GCM), with technical and financial assistance from the United Nations, concluded its work in Yei River County and delivered verdicts on 14 cases.
Eleven members of the SSPDF accused of serious crimes, including murder as well as sexual and gender-based violence, were convicted.
The convicts were stripped of their ranks, dismissed from the SSPDF, sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and required to pay compensation to survivors.
The GCM included three female judge-advocates to ensure that both female and male victims and witnesses felt comfortable participating in the justice process.
UNMISS stated that prior to the GCM’s deployment, consultations between civilians and military personnel were held to enhance community awareness and ownership of the justice process.
Yei County community has since recognized the GCM as an important mechanism for combating impunity, building trust between military and civilians.
The General Court Martial also improves discipline and order in the SSPDF as well as advancing peace and stability in Yei River County.
Brigadier General, John Lual, Commander of the Independent Brigade of Yei, explained the GCM’s impact.
“Soldiers know that rule of law and disciplinary measures will be taken, and civilians have become aware that nobody is above the law. This is a result of the court martial,” he lamented.
For his part, Yei River County Commissioner Aggrey Cyrus Kanyikwa said that the GCM has told civilians in Yei that no one is above the law.
“This should show citizens of Yei that they should not fear reporting soldiers who commit crimes,” he said. “I call for both civilians and soldiers to respect each other and serve the nation.”
Meanwhile, all the military personnel at Yei Garrison were distributed ‘six key messages to end sexual violence” by the directorate of military justice at the close of the GCM.
Brigadier General Riek Bim Top Long, Deputy Director of the Directorate, underscored that the SSPDF had enacted these messages as standing orders that are legally binding on all military personnel.
Mr. Long further called on the SSPDF to end sexual violence and protect the people of South Sudan.
UNMISS provided funding for victims and witnesses to receive psycho-social support, as well as interpretation services, food, accommodation, and transport from a number of local civil society organizations during the course of the general court martial.
All victims had access to two civilian victims’ counsel who provided free legal advice and participated in the proceedings to protect their rights and help them navigate the justice process.