In an unusual move, a military court in the eastern part of the Democratic sentenced Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware to 20 years in jail after finding him guilty of crimes against humanity. Almost fifty women came and testified against the colonel; it was the first rape conviction against a commanding officer in the eastern DRC. This is despite the fact that government agencies repeatedly cite government troops as the most widespread perpetrator of sexual violence in the region.
On New Year’s Day, Mutware sent his troops to rape, beat up and loot the town of Fizi in the Kivu province. More than 60 women were raped. It’s extremely unusual, however, for so many women to testify against their rapists. The women gathered together to await the verdict, and spoke to the BBC about the crimes that had been inflicted on them.
“I was fleeing the violence but unfortunately I met four soldiers,” a 29-year-old mother of five said. “They began to tear the pants I was wearing. They took my child from my arms and left him on the ground. Then they had sex with me.”
Rape is used as a systematic tactic of war in the DRC; the UN recorded 11,000 rapes in 2010, but most estimate the real total to be much higher. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders dispatch mobile clinics to help rape victims, but the rebel forces seem for the most part to be able to act with impunity.
It’s hopeful, though, that rape victims in the Congo seem willing to speak out, although this BBC news article makes it seem like the people in this case were all women. In reality, many of the people who are subjected to rape by the rebel forces are men and others are children, while women do comprise a large number of the victims as well.
The 20 years that Mutware was given seem extremely light to me, considering that he was convicted of crimes against humanity, but the very fact that he was convicted and sentenced is another good sign. If more rape victims are willing to speak out, the chances are better that people will take notice of – and act against – the horrible violence being committed in the DRC. As the mass rape of a town last August proved, the presence of UN peacekeepers doesn’t seem to be doing enough.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.