News / Africa

Activists Seek More Justice After Congo Rape Sentencing

A mass rape victim comforts her son in the town of Fizi, Congo, February 20, 2011
A mass rape victim comforts her son in the town of Fizi, Congo, February 20, 2011
Nico Colombant

Civilians, defense lawyers and activists are welcoming the sentencing Monday of an army lieutenant colonel and eight other soldiers in the mass rape of dozens of women in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. They say, though, it is just a small step in the fight against rampant rape in the war-torn country.

Hundreds of people jeered at the convicted as they were led away in handcuffs outside the makeshift courtroom in the lakeside Congo village of Baraka.

Defense lawyer Therese Kulungu said in her words "the untouchable has been touched." The reactions followed a military court sentence of between 10 and 20 years in prison for those convicted of a mass rape on New Year's Day in the nearby town of Fizi, in the mineral-rich and lawless South Kivu Province.

The main accused was former rebel-leader Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Kibibi Mutware, who was reintegrated into Congo's army in 2009, as part of long-delayed peace agreements. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of crimes against humanity for ordering his troops to rape, beat and loot the population of Fizi.

Forty-nine victims of the New Year's Day attack testified in court, and as part of the verdict, the senior judge said they should receive up to $10,000 in compensation from the government.

An activist against rapes in the Congo, Lisa Shannon, has been following the trial from the United States. Several years ago, she visited the area where the trial took place and found staggering statistics.

"It was common in women's groups for half of the women to have been gang raped within the last six months," said Shannon. "I visited villages in the area where 90 percent of the women had been raped. In all of the areas I visited in South Kivu, I did not visit communities that identified higher rates of rape than in that area. It was the highest."

She said women face an impossible choice of being stopped by competing groups of armed men and raped while going to farm their fields, or watching their children starve.

Despite growing attention to the problem, rapes are still reported on a regular basis from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, often committed by government soldiers. The medical charity group Doctors Without Borders said it had received credible reports of 30 new rapes last week in areas near Fizi.

Shannon called the trial an enormous first step in dealing with a total lack of justice and a culture of impunity. She said Congolese officials, activists, judges and defense lawyers cannot be expected to reverse this grim reality on their own.

"They are going to need a lot of help for a long time," said Shannon. "Security sector reform in Congo, building a justice system from the ground up, is an enormous task. It is going to take a long time and an enormous amount of support from the international community."

The United Nations, the U.S.-based Open Society Initiative and lawyer groups such as the American Bar Association and Lawyers without Borders helped pay costs and with logistics during the Baraka trial.

A senior legal adviser with the Open Society group, Kelly Askin, said now that the rule of law has started being enforced domestically she hoped the trial would have an impact on deterring future crimes.

One accused soldier was acquitted, and another believed to be 16 will be tried in a juvenile court. The 11 men brought to the court were the only ones identified by victims, but women at the trial said other rapists are still living in their community, including those involved in the New Year's attack. They said they were still being raped if they left their village.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs