A South Sudan military court Friday sentenced three soldiers to death by firing squad, and a fourth to 10 years’ imprisonment, for killing two civilians in their homes in robbery-motivated attacks last year.
The victims — Lilian Lurit, mother of a nine-month-old child, and Ayol Majak — were killed in separate attacks at night, as gangs robbed their homes.
Two civilians who acted with the soldiers were also convicted — one of them sentenced to life imprisonment and the other to eight years in jail.
All four soldiers, two of them with the rank of sergeant, have been dismissed from the army.
Brigadier General Santo Domic, a military spokesman, said the prosecution was the first of its kind to hold accountable soldiers who terrorise residential areas in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, and elsewhere at night.
“This is a signal that the SSPDF (South Sudan People’s Defence Force)… does not accommodate criminality,” he told reporters after the ruling.
The convicted men’s lawyer said they would appeal.
Amnesty International last year accused the government of South Sudan and its allied militias of carrying out “war crimes” of “staggering brutality” in attacks on civilians who it said in a report were “shot dead, burnt alive, hanged in trees, and run over with armoured vehicles.”
The group also documented “systematic sexual violence”, rape and gang-rape as well as abductions of women and girls, and the deliberate killing of young boys and male infants.
War broke out in the world’s newest nation in December 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup.
The ensuing battle for power between Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, and Machar, a Nuer, meant the conflict quickly took on an ethnic character with civilians targeted by both sides for massacre and widespread rape.
The vicious war has killed nearly 400,000 people, pushed millions to the brink of starvation and scattered refugees across East Africa.
Kiir and Machar signed a ceasefire deal last year that the UN and observers warn appears to be breaking up.
In September last year, 10 soldiers were found guilty of an attack on a hotel in the capital Juba in which five foreign aid workers were gang-raped and a South Sudanese journalist killed.
But commanders and their political masters are not held to account for such acts.
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