U.N. investigators say police recruits were beaten to death, sexually assaulted and forced to stand for hours in the blazing sun as part of a training program funded by international donors, demonstrating the challenges ahead for what will soon be the world's newest nation.
Some of the 6,000 recruits who took part in a yearlong program to train new officers to promote stability in the war-torn region say they were raped and were beaten with sticks. U.N. investigators found that at least two trainees died from injuries.
The academy had received more than $1 million from the U.N. Development Program with promises of more aid. Now, international donors have suspended their support to the Rajaf police academy pending further investigation. Plans for the next class of recruits are on hold.
"Our rights as recruits were not respected," one man in his mid-20s told The Associated Press. He detailed how he and his fellow recruits were beaten with sticks, kicked, "made to roll on the ground" and forced to crawl on their hands and knees as punishment.
The recruit decided to sign up for the police training after living as a refugee in neighboring Uganda and finding others jobs hard to come by in the desperately poor Southern Sudanese capital city of Juba. Instead of opportunity, he says he found despair.
"It made me lose my hope completely. I had no idea I would enter such a life, otherwise I would not have joined," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
Southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly last month to secede from the north. The independence referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal that ended a two-decade war that had left 2 million people dead.
Southern Sudan is still awash in weapons, many of them in the hands of civilians and poorly trained, ill-disciplined security forces. Police are badly needed to improve security and promote stability as the region moves toward becoming the Republic of South Sudan in July.
The academy was designed to create a "new guard" of police officers who had not experienced the brutal combat endured by tens of thousands of Southern Sudanese guerrilla fighters during the civil war. Instead, recruits at the facility described being deeply traumatized by some of these former guerrilla fighters, who are now serving as "commandos" in the southern army.
The human rights unit of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan investigated in December and January and said "many recruits died during the course of the year." About 700 recruits did not finish the program. Human rights groups have been unable to independently confirm how many deaths occurred.
"Evidence is sufficient enough to conclude that a pattern of human rights violations ranging from extrajudicial killings, rape, and attempted rape, to inhumane, cruel and degrading treatment," said a letter sent by the U.N. human rights unit to the inspector general of the Southern Sudan Police Service in January.
At least 400 women were in the academy when the class started in January 2010, although it is unclear how many females graduated the following December.
"Female recruits were compelled without their consent on diverse occasions to have sexual intercourse with some of the trainers at the training center," it said. The letter argued that "high-ranking officers knew or ought to have known" of such violations.
The southern government's Minister of Internal Affairs Gier Chuang Aluong refused repeated interview requests, referring the AP to a list of steps taken to address the allegations. Those included his ministry's proposal that southern president Salva Kiir appoint a commission to investigate the alleged abuses. No commission has yet been set up to do so.
Joe Feeney, the head of office for UNDP in Southern Sudan, said international officials are "deeply concerned by the allegations put forward."
At a cafe in Juba, the young disillusioned recruit now faces deployment to a new post. He signed up for the police training in hopes it would provide a decent salary in a place where few are found
He's still waiting to start earning $3 a day, but says dejectedly: "I'm not really interested anymore."