Verdicts in Latest DR Congo Rape Trial Show Justice is Possible – UN Envoy

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–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 last year, 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 26 to 29 September.

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.

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.