Verdicts in latest DR Congo rape trial show justice is possible – UN envoy

Special envoy Margot Wallström, visiting the DRC in October 2010, listens to the public about rapes

10 March 2011 – The United Nations envoy on sexual violence in conflict has welcomed the guilty verdicts handed down by a military court in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) against 11 army officers for crimes committed in 2009, saying it shows that efforts to end impunity are producing results.

The case involved the rapes of 24 women that took place in Katasomwa, approximately 25 kilometres southwest of Kalehe in South Kivu province, from 22 to 26 September 2009.

The 11 members of the Congolese army, known as FARDC, had been accused of rape, pillaging, destruction of schools, abduction of children and other violations of physical integrity.

All of them were found guilty and sentenced on Wednesday by the military tribunal of South Kivu in Kalehe. They include the commander of the 68th Battalion based in Katasomwa, Lieutenant-Colonel Balumisa aka Dix mille, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, as well as the second in command, Major Elia, who also received a life sentence.

“This sends a strong signal to all perpetrators of acts of sexual violence that no military commander is beyond the law, including members of a national army,” Margot Wallström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said in a statement issued yesterday.

“It also shows that the focus on ending impunity for this type of crimes continues to render concrete results,” she added.

The three officers convicted appeared in court and were sentenced to 15 years in prison. They include the commander of the 68th Battalion based in Katasomwa, Lieutenant-Colonel Balumisa Manasse aka Dix mille, as well as the second in command, Major Elya Mungemba Eugide, and Captain Mukanyaka Kirungu Kilalo.

Eight of the convicted soldiers remain on the run and were tried in their absence and sentenced to life in prison. The court also ordered that the convicts pay compensation to the victims jointly with the State, which was found jointly responsible for the soldiers’ crimes. The convicts have five days to file an appeal.

Ms. Wallström commended the fact that as many as 21 of the 24 women who were raped were brave enough to testify in court, adding that it is now crucial that the victims of and witnesses to instances of sexual violence are protected, as well as their families.

She also commended the DRC Government for its swift action in the case, as well as in a similar case two weeks ago in the Maniema province, and thanked all those involved in the successful outcome of the legal proceedings.

The trial was organised with logistical and material support from the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), the UN Joint Human Rights Office, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF).

Last month a military court in Baraka in eastern DRC sentenced a high-ranking commander and several other army personnel for rape and other crimes in the town of Fizi on New Year’s Day. It marked the first time that a senior official and members of the army were arrested, tried and sentenced for conflict-related sexual violence in the strife-torn nation.

Meanwhile, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, who is also in the DRC, today visited Orientale province, where the rebel Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has killed some 2,000 people, abducted nearly 3,000 others, including 1,500 children, and driven some 300,000 more from their homes in attacks against civilians in villages and towns.

“The LRA continues to commit atrocities against civilians, and those who have been displaced have no prospect of going back home any time soon,” she said after visiting the Haut-Uele and Bas-Uele districts. “The weak presence of the Government and under-resourcing of MONUSCO has meant that the LRA have not been stopped.

“The Government must strengthen its presence in this area. MONUSCO must also try to step up its operations. UN Member States need to provide significantly more resources to MONUSCO to enhance their effectiveness in protecting people from LRA attacks… We need to redouble our efforts to find a lasting solution, a regional solution to this crisis.”

Only a few hundred LRA fighters are estimated to be in the DRC but the humanitarian impact of their presence has been enormous. The LRA terrorized northern Uganda for two decades before spilling over into neighbouring countries, including the DRC, Southern Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR).

“The affected countries and international partners need to come together to address this serious threat to regional peace and security,” Ms. Amos said.

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DR Congo mass rape verdicts send strong signal to perpetrators – UN envoy

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