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Rights Group: DRC Rape Trial Failed to Secure Justice

FILE - Congolese soldiers follow proceedings during the mass trial of 39 soldiers inside a military court in Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, May 5, 2014.

Human Rights Watch said the recent conviction of just two Democratic Republic of Congo soldiers out of a total 39 tried for a mass rape in 2012 points to deeper failings in the justice system. The rights group said despite enormous amounts of international funding, the system is failing to deliver justice both to victims and those accused of war crimes in the DRC.

It’s been widely reported that at least 76 women and girls were raped at Minova, in the eastern DRC, after a chaotic army retreat in November 2012.

In May 2014, a military court convicted two rank-and-file soldiers of rape and 25 of looting. They were sentenced to jail terms of up to 20 years with no right of appeal. But all the officers on trial were acquitted and no high level commander was charged.

In a report released last week on the case, Human Rights Watch said the only evidence against most of the accused men was that they had been absent from roll calls. The report’s author is Geraldine Mattioli Zeltner. “Of the 25 who were eventually convicted, only two were identified by victims during the trial,” she stated.

Mattioli Zeltner said the women had been attacked at night, making identification more difficult. More effort should have been made to hold commanders responsible, she said.

Human Rights Watch said the case was rushed to trial, largely due to international pressure, and defendants had weak legal representation.

The military court ordered the state to pay reparations to victims but they have not been paid, nor have reparations in about 30 other war crime cases in the DRC, according to Human Rights Watch.

The government declined to comment.

The international community has poured what Mattioli Zeltner called enormous amounts of money into the DRC justice sector in the past 10 years. There have been improvements, she said, but too much money goes on repetitive training, while certain attitudes remain unchanged.

“I think you could continue international assistance like it’s been going now for another 10 years," she added. "And you’d probably have the same kind of trials in 10 years’ [time].”

A report by the Open Society Initiative in 2013 found donors had spent about $150 million on Congolese justice over a period of several years, while the government was officially budgeting in the low tens of millions for the sector each year, most of it not spent.