A senior United Nations official has welcomed today's verdicts by a military court in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which mark the first time that a high-ranking commander and several other army personnel were arrested, tried and sentenced for conflict-related sexual violence in the strife-torn nation.
According to media reports, the military court in Baraka sentenced Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware to 20 years in jail. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity for sending his troops to rape, beat and loot from the population of Fizi on New Year's Day. Judges also sentenced three officers serving under the commander to 20 years and five soldiers to between 10 and 15 years.
"The sentences send a strong signal to all perpetrators in the DRC and beyond that conflict-related sexual violence is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. It also shows that accountability for sexual violence is possible," the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, said in a statement.
Sexual violence has long been used as a weapon of war by all sides in the DRC, which Ms. Wallström has previously described as "the rape capital of the world."
Last October, she told the Security Council that hundreds of women who were raped by rebels in eastern DRC in the summer faced the possibility of the same abuse from government troops.
A UN human rights team confirmed that more than 300 civilians, including some boys and men, were raped between 30 July and 2 August in the Walikale region, in eastern DRC, by members of armed groups including the Maï Maï Cheka and the Rwandan rebel group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
More offences took place over the New Year holiday in Fizi and Bushani, where elements of the national army, known as FARDC, are alleged to have been involved in over 60 rapes.
"Not only did the Congolese authorities react swiftly to the Fizi rapes in January and apprehended a number of the alleged perpetrators, but by all accounts the legal process has been fair and efficient," stated Ms. Wallström.
"It is now imperative that the remaining perpetrators are found and brought to justice, for the Fizi incident as well as last year's Walikale atrocities. It is equally important that the victims of and witnesses to instances of sexual violence are protected, as well as their families," she added.
The envoy commended the Congolese Government, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO), the American Bar Association, the Open Society Initiative, and local non-governmental organizations for their assistance in this "crucial" case.