Battling Impunity: Rape Trials in Eastern Congo: The Trials
In the lush hills of eastern Congo, a brutal war rages against female inhabitants. As rival militias fight for control of territory and resources, women’s bodies often become components of the battlefield. Each year, thousands of women are raped in eastern Congo, with more than 8,300 reported cases in 2009 alone. Since the 1990’s, rape has been used as a weapon of war; a brutal and indelible tactic aimed at demoralizing male enemies by violating their wives, mothers and sisters. These crimes, committed with impunity, have destroyed tens of thousands of lives.
In recent months, ranking officials in the Congolese military have resolved to intervene in this horrific trend. With support from international organizations, the Congolese military has established and utilized mobile military tribunals to administer justice in this largely lawless land. The tribunals, made up of military judges and civilian attorneys, are capable of operating wherever crimes occur.
In February 2011, one such tribunal tried and convicted Lt. Col. Mutware Daniel Kebibi, the most senior Congolese military officer to ever face charges of rape and crimes against humanity. Kebibi was accused of orchestrating the systematic rape of more than 60 women and the looting of dozens of shops in the mountaintop village of Fizi on New Year's Day 2011. After ten days of agonizing testimony and vicious argument, the military judges sentenced Kebibi and eight of his men to decades of imprisonment with hard labor. Thousands of residents that gathered to observe the trial erupted in cheer as the sentences were handed down. “You thought you would get away with it,” they jeered. “Now you will pay.”
It was a landmark case in Congo, a clear and decisive message to the roving militias and military units that continue to rape and pillage with regularity. “We believe that we have made our position clear with these convictions,” said Freddy Mukendi, the President of the Military Court. “These types of criminal acts will no longer go unpunished.” Lt. Col. Kebibi’s senior rank signaled that the tribunals are capable of targeting all perpetrators regardless of power and seniority.