*An eye for an eye is the wrong response to attacks on humanitarians/ The
Guardian 15.09.16*


I survived the attack in which South Sudanese soldiers murdered and gang
raped aid workers – but executing the perpetrators will not bring justice

It has been two months since I was brutally attacked along with more than
30 other individuals by armed soldiers at the Terrain compound in Juba,
South Sudan. The incident resulted in the death of a dedicated and
inspiring friend, John Gatluak Manguet Nhial, repeated sexual and physical
assaults, and the lingering pain from the physical and psychological
injuries we sustained that day.

The international community has made a loud and united call for this
incident to be properly investigated and for the government of South Sudan
to prosecute the perpetrators and ensure justice for survivors. In August,
Ban Ki Moon called for the government to “prosecute those involved in these
unspeakable acts of violence”.

I have spent many years working on the other side of such reports, speaking
to victims and perpetrators, and making similar calls. But as I find my
role transformed, I can’t help but feel that this “justice” we ask for is
as elusive as ever.

If the ongoing presidential investigation into the attack is thorough and
soldiers are indeed found guilty of the crimes committed against us, there
is a high chance they may be sentenced to death. Recently, two soldiers in
Wau found guilty of committing murder and other crimes were executed by
firing squad.

I can only speak about my own reaction to the events that followed the
attack against us. I know very well that not everyone will agree with what
I am about to say: but after two months of healing, I am wondering what
“justice” even looks like.

In the decade since the 2003 UN Baghdad bombing, aid worker casualties have
tripled to more than 100 deaths per year. This question of justice is not
only asked by the survivors of the Terrain attacks, it is a question asked
by humanitarians affected by violent war crimes all over the world.

Causing suffering in others does not alleviate my suffering

Yes, I am angry. I am angry because I feel that the UN failed to do
anything to protect us or to rescue us after the attack. I am angry at a
nation that has a large armed force but no funds to pay them – soldiers
that in many cases joined this army as children, trained and initiated into
a life of destruction, fear and anger. I am angry at those soldiers who
during the event clearly coerced younger troops, some who could not have
been more than 16, to rape foreigners while they watched and cheered. The
lives of those young soldiers have also been changed forever.

Yes, I am angry. Yes, we need justice. But the death penalty does not give
life to John Gatluak Manguet Nhial. Causing suffering in others does not
alleviate my suffering. Instead, the death penalty only further erodes
society’s respect for the sanctity of life. It builds scar tissue to
coarsen our culture, diminish our humanity.

As a humanitarian, I moved to South Sudan to support a population that has
endured war for generations. As humanitarians, we lived in South Sudan to
use whatever skills we had to try and save lives. The thought of people
being killed on my behalf makes me feel sick.

Are we as humanitarians left with the choice to either report crimes
against us and participate in an unjust system, or simply not report these
crimes at all?

It is too soon to say whether this investigation will be taken seriously by
the government, by its army and their military court, or to say whether any
investigation will result in the execution of perpetrators. But this
discussion needs to happen before that call is made, before the trigger is

We need to work towards better implementation of international humanitarian
law and accountability for those who violate it. But these efforts must
work hand in hand with the need to continue work to strengthen judicial
systems and encourage governments to stop the use of capital punishment

How can we call for justice when we know the consequences of that justice
offend our moral code?

South Sudan has continued to use the death penalty despite well-documented
weaknesses in the country’s legal system, which prevent it from ensuring
the basic legal rights of people accused of crimes. How would we be sure
the right people were being punished?

This week I will speak to investigators from South Sudan’s government who
will play a role in deciding the fate of these soldiers. I will tell them
my story in unflinching detail so that the full consequences of these
violent actions can be understood. And I will call for justice – a justice
that encompasses the dignity and respect survivors deserve as well as the
dignity and respect for human life that we, as humanitarians, should demand.

We are reporting stories on this subject; you can contact us confidentially
at globaldevp...@theguardian.com with “ Sexual violence against aid
workers” in the subject line.

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