Thursday, March 31, 2011

D.R. Congo: UN provides logistical support for rape trial of army general

United Nations human rights officials are providing technical and logistical support to military justice authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the rape trial of General Jerôme Kakwavu, the highest ranking national army officer to be prosecuted for such crimes.

General Kakwavu, who is currently in detention in the capital, Kinshasa, is charged with having raped two females – one of whom was aged just 13 – about seven years ago. Before his integration into the military, known as the FARDC, he led a Congolese armed group known as the UDC/FAPC.

UN rights officials also followed the trial last week of 16 soldiers and a policeman on charges of rape, sexual violence and armed robbery in the Bukavu region of eastern DRC, four of whom were sentenced to death, 10 to 20 years’ hard labour, and three were released, UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) spokesperson Madnodje Mounoubai told a news conference in Kinshasa today.

“The joint human rights bureau acknowledges the efforts undertaken by military justice in the fight against impunity,” he said.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, has called the DRC “the rape capital of the world.”

Welcoming the opening of General Kakwavu’s trial yesterday, Ms. Wallström said: “These actions send a powerful signal that no military or political leader is above the law, and no woman is below it. In addition to prosecution, there is a need for reparation of victims. It is vital that survivors receive assistance, in particular medical interventions. The aim is not only to bring the perpetrators of sexual violence to justice, but also to ensure that victims obtain justice and care.”

The trials and verdicts are the latest in a series that DRC officials have instituted in the past few weeks. Earlier this month, a military court in eastern DRC sentenced 11 members of the Congolese army accused of rape, pillaging, destruction of schools, abduction of children and other violations of physical integrity to jail terms.

They included Lieutenant-Colonel Balumisa, aka Dix mille, and his second-in-command, Major Elia, who were jailed for life. The case involved the rapes of 24 women that took place in Katasomwa in South Kivu province in 2009.

Last month, a military court sentenced several army officers and soldiers for rape and other human rights abuses, marking the first time that a high-ranking commander and several other personnel serving with the Congolese national armed forces were arrested, tried and sentenced for conflict-related sexual violence.

Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware was reportedly sentenced to 20 years in jail after being found guilty of crimes against humanity for sending his troops to rape, beat and loot from the population of Fizi, in eastern DRC, during the night of 1 to 2 January 2011. Judges also sentenced three officers serving under the commander to 20 years in jail and five soldiers to between 10 and 15 years.

Meanwhile, a delegation from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is on its first visit to the DRC as a follow-up to a report released last October that described “indescribable” atrocities committed from 1993 to 2003, when tens of thousands of people were killed, and numerous others raped and mutilated by both armed Congolese groups and foreign military forces.

During its four-day stay, the delegation is meeting with national authorities to discuss “a global strategy of transitional justice, including notably prosecution of criminals, a reparations programme, gender justice and security sector reform,” Mr. Mounoubai said.

Since 1999, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC has overseen the vast country’s emergence from years of civil war and factional chaos, culminating most notably in 2006 with the first democratic elections in over four decades. But fighting has continued in the east where the bulk of UN forces are deployed.