Court jails DRC army officers for rape
Kinshasa - A military court in the Democratic Republic of Congo has jailed three army officers, including a lieutenant colonel, for 15 years for rape, a senior court source said on Thursday.
The court martial, sitting on Wednesday in Kalehe, 100km north of its eastern base in Bukavu, also gave life sentences to eight other soldiers who are on the run.
The 11 men were on trial for raping about 20 women, as well as other acts of violence and looting committed at the end of September 2009 at Katasomwa, near Kalehe.
Those tried in their absence were captains and lieutenants, while the lieutenant colonel, commander of a military unit, a major and a captain appeared in court.
"The soldiers fanned out into the town to carry out atrocities after one of their own was killed by a civilian," Colonel Freddy Mukendi, president of the Bukavu court martial, told AFP. "The lieutenant colonel was not himself accused of rape, but he was there as a spectator, approving, and did nothing to stop it as commander."
Most of the accused, including the lieutenant colonel, were former rebels or members of local militias, who had been integrated into the DRC's army as part of peace plans for the vast country after two devastating wars ended in 2003.
The verdict "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", said Margot Wallstroem, the special representative of the UN secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict.
"It is now crucial that the victims of and witnesses to instances of sexual violence are protected, as well as their families," she added.
The UN agencies and human rights bodies have reported and condemned thousands of cases of rape notably in the eastern Kivu provinces of DRC, which are still prey to unrest. Rapes have been blamed on troops of the national army as well as the rebel movements and militias active in the region.
On February 21, nine soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, were jailed by the same court for the rape of about 60 women carried out at the beginning of January. They were given prison sentences ranging between 10 and 20 years.