A military court in Democratic Republic of Congo convicted four army officers of ordering the rapes of more than 50 people on New Year’s Day.
The court, which was set up in the town of Baraka in South Kivu province, sentenced commanding officer Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware and three others to 20 years in prison. Another five soldiers received between 10 and 15 years for their role in the attacks, lead judge Col. Freddy Mukendi said.
The officers and soldiers will appeal, defense lawyer Daniel Mongane said by phone from Baraka.
Kibibi ordered his troops to attack the village of Fizi on Jan. 1 after residents lynched a soldier following a fight with a local, witnesses told Bloomberg News in Fizi last month. More than 60 people were raped over a period of two days, hospital officials said.
Congo is recovering from more than a decade of war that began in the mid-1990s. Fighting continues in the country’s mineral-rich east, where many rebel groups have loosely integrated into the regular army. Rape has become a common tactic in the conflict, and convictions against perpetrator are rare.
The trial shows that “accountability and justice” are possible, even in remote parts of Congo, Brahmy Poologasingham of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative said by e-mail today from South Kivu. The ABA provided legal assistance for the court, whose members travelled from around Congo to participate.
“We are witnessing the highest standards being applied using both international and Congolese law to charge a commanding officer with crimes against humanity on the basis of rape,” she said.
Kibibi was also charged with inhuman acts and terrorism. He is a former rebel with the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, which was led by the Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda and integrated into the army in 2009.