On May 25, 16-year-old Justin Lisok Lomuresuk, a primary school student from Kiri boma of Kajokeji in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria state, was cutting wood when he found the decomposing body of a soldier tied to a tree. He told his siblings, who then reported it to local authorities.
The next day, while villagers, local officials, and police gathered at the scene, around 25 soldiers arrived in a pickup truck and on motorcycles. A commanding officer ordered Lomuresuk, his 18-year-old brother, Saviour Yamba Lomuresuk, and a 38-year-old neighbor, Taka Iga Wani to sit down, then four soldiers sprayed them with bullets, killing them. The authorities had not questioned the three or anyone else about the suspected crime. These heinous summary executions appear to be done as a form of collective punishment.
Later that day, soldiers arrested Lomuresuk’s sister Kabang Jeska and took her, along with her two-year-old child, to the army barracks in Wudu town. The soldiers also arrested Yongo Henry, Taban Shadrach, and an unidentified civilian without specifying their offences. On Tuesday evening, officials released Jeska, her baby, and Shadrach, but two other civilians remain in detention without charge or visitation nearly a week later. Relatives worry they could be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment or even forcibly disappeared.
Civilians should never be held in military facilities. Authorities should release the remaining two and ensure all army officers implicated in these criminal violations are held to account in civilian courts.
State and military authorities have promised to investigate the killings, but their record casts serious doubt on whether their investigation will be credible. On March 7, a military officer summarily killed Philip Wani Yapete in Kansuk, Kajokeji, allegedly in connection with burning of logging trucks by unknown people. An investigation was allegedly opened, but nothing is known about it.
The reality is that South Sudan’s army routinely carries out and conceals heinous criminal violations, such as summary executions and torture, with impunity. Efforts to address this have been fledgling and often focus on low-ranking officers.
It is long overdue that there be a high cost for these flagrant abuses. The military should issue unequivocal orders, followed by swift measures to ensure that these crimes are neither ignored nor tolerated.