Court sentences 12 to life for gang-raping children
In a groundbreaking trial in a country where sexual violence is rampant and perpetrators often go unpunished, a military court in eastern Congo yesterday sentenced 12 militia members to life in prison for the gang-rapes of dozens of children as young as 11 months old, and for murder.
The court convicted provincial deputy Frederic Batumike for organising the violence that began in 2013 and continued for years in the village of Kavumu, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Bukavu city. The court awarded US$5,000 to each victim of sexual violence, and US$15,000 to the families of those killed for criticising the militia's actions.
The organisation Physicians for Human Rights called it the first time a sitting government official in Congo had been found guilty of "superior responsibility for crimes he and his militia, whom he controlled and financed, committed."
Immunity was waived for Batumike, a member of parliament, to stand trial.
"This trial demonstrated that justice can be served in the Congo, when an investigation is effectively carried out and evidence is methodically collected, even when the accused wield significant power and are highly organised," said Karen Naimer, director of the organisation's programme on sexual violence in conflict zones.
She said that it is now the responsibility of Congolese authorities to use similar measures to "rigorously pursue other cases of sexual violence" across the vast Central African country.
Families and victims expressed relief at the verdict.
"Following years of silence, motivated by fear and denial, their suffering has been brought to light and recognised publicly," said Charles Cubaka, spokesman for the lawyers representing the victims. "The long road ahead for the recovery of these young girls can now proceed."