Today, nine Congolese soldiers were sentenced to time in jail for ordering and executing mass rapes. According to the United Nations, the convictions “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.”
The sentences represent a small but significant victory for the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country has endured 15 years of what many call “Africa’s World War I.” Over the years the conflict, which stems from fights over control of the country’s natuaral resources, has claimed more than 5 million lives. The violence has had dismal consequences for women, as rape is often used as a weapon of war. The country has been called the worst place on earth for women, with some estimating that over 200,000 women in the country have been the victim of rape. Since many rapes go unreported, there is no way to know in reality how many women’s bodies have been violated.
Kibibi Mutware, the lieutenant colonel leading the unit of soldiers who carried out the mass rapes, was sentenced to 20 years in jail. A married father of eight, he was found guilty of crimes against humanity, sending his troops to rape, beat and loot from the population of Fizi on New Year’s Day. His soldiers will serve a minimum of 10 years in prison.
While this story is a tragic one, a glimmer of hope came through. The victims of rape at the hands of Mutware and his soldiers were able to seek justice in a forum most women in the DRC are often unable to.
According to UPI.com, nearly 50 women reported to a court in the eastern city of Baraka to testify against Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware.
Aid groups are praising the outcome of the trial as well as the courage shown by the women to stand up to the brutal crimes. Kelly Askins, a regional legal officer for the Open Society Justice Initiative said:
“On New Year’s Day, over 50 women were viciously and systematically raped. Less than two months later, the leader and eight of his soldiers have been arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced… Finally, actions have consequences, something that’s been absent in the DRC for far too long,”
The outcome of the trial is a victory not only for the women and children who suffered at the hand of these brutal men, but also for the millions of Congolese women and children who have lived with the constant threat of rape. One can only hope the conviction signals better days for the women of the DRC.