55 sentenced to life imprisonment: A victory against impunity in DRC


Fifty-five defendants, including a member of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and an officer of the Congolese National Police (PNC), have been sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity for acts that have included the murder of civilians, torture and rape, mutilation and persecution, and acts of terrorism and the deportation of civilians.

The military garrison court of Bunia, in the Ituri province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 28 September 2019 © UNJHRO

The defendants, jointly with the Congolese State, were ordered to pay damages of nearly $ 5 million to the 208 complainants.

A courageous verdict, a clear message

The verdict was pronounced on September 28, 2019, by the military garrison court of Bunia, in the Ituri province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following a trial that initially began in June 2018.

According to Eric-Bertin Mukam of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) in Bunia, this "courageous" verdict was also "a clear message to other perpetrators of violence committed in Djugu this year. The UNJHRO will continue its support of the military justice system in its fight against impunity."

Between December 2017 and April 2018, the Djugu territory in the Ituri province, located in the north-east of DR Congo, was the scene of violent intercommunal tensions. This conflict has resulted in significant loss of life (at least 263 people killed, including 91 women and 3 children), destruction of private property (120 villages looted and destroyed in particular) and displacement (around 400,000 Internally Displaced People and about 30,000 refugees in Uganda).

"The Office investigated the violence in question and, on that basis, prepared several reports that provided basic information to the military justice system and carried out a joint fact-finding mission with the Military Prosecutor's Office and the Ituri Court of Appeal from 25 to 30 September 2018, "said Nora Capdevila of the Joint Office in Kinshasa.

It is, indeed, as a result of investigations carried out with the support of the Joint Office that justice has prevailed. Of the initial 76 defendant's that were charged, 14 died in prison and seven others were acquitted due to lack of evidence.

Support to justice and fight against impunity

This trial has been a stellar example of UNJHRO's close collaboration with judicial institutions in the DRC, in support of justice and accountability. "We provided technical and financial support to the Ituri Military Garrison Tribunal for the organization of mobile court hearings in Tchomia and Kaseni (15-16 August 2018), Djugu-center (10-16 September 2018) and Djugu-center and Pataki (November 20-25, 2018). During these hearings, UNJHRO, inter alia, attained legal aid services for survivor's and further ensured the protection of survivors during all stages of the proceedings, including during investigations and mobile court hearings, "said Ms Capdevila.

UNJHRO, through technical, logistical and financial support, continues to support civil and military judicial institutions in DRC in the prosecution of serious human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law.

For instance, between June 2018 and May 2019, UNJHRO supported 16 joint fact-finding missions and 20 mobile court hearings alongside judicial authorities across the country to prosecute perpetrators of serious human rights violations. Similarly, between January and September 2019, financial, logistical and technical support by UNJHRO to the military court of Beni Butembo garrison resulted in the pronouncement of 17 judgments in Mambango (7) and Kasindi (10). 16 soldiers, accused of rape, child rape, murder, manslaughter and armed robbery, received sentences ranging from five years in prison to the death penalty.

The work of the UNJHRO regularly includes the documentation and reporting of human rights violations, in addition to supporting survivors to seek and obtain redress. The UNJHRO continues to advocate with relevant authorities to improve the situation of human rights and the protection of civilians, including through the adoption of laws and policies that adhere to international human rights standards.

The UNJHRO's support to military justice in DR Congo is part of the fight against impunity and in support of the protection of civilians.

 

15 October 2019

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