Historic Trial in Kavumu: Maximum Penalty for Perpetrators

Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 2017

At a landmark trial in Kavumu, twelve members of the militia Jeshi ya Yesu were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, including the kidnapping and the mass rape of children. Two others received one year in prison while six were acquitted.

The mobile court* recognized that the operations carried out by the militia were coordinated by Frédéric Batumike, a militia leader and South Kivu provincial member of parliament. Exhibits presented during the proceeding, including phone exchanges, resulted in unequivocal evidence against the defendants.

Preceding the trial, Panzi’s legal team and mobile clinic made perilous journeys to bring the child victims to Panzi Hospital and acted despite the threats they received. They also recorded first-hand information, collected evidence, and documented incidents whenever possible.

Children who were brought to the hospital were immediately accompanied by a Maman Cherie, who supported the children emotionally and psychologically. Doctors carried out a general physical examination, examined and photographed physical lesions, and conducted a psychological evaluation. Many children, who were brought at Panzi Hospital within 72 hours, received an HIV and STI prevention kit upon their arrival.

“When you receive children under the age of 5 twice a week in your hospital with indescribable destruction of the perineum following rape, that raises questions. After a dozen victims, I started to worry. This is the first time I saw babies with lesions like that. I then tried to alert national and international opinion. It took a long time for the alleged organizers of this act to be arrested.” 

Dr. Denis Mukwege

The ruling was a historic victory in the fight against impunity for crimes of sexual violence in the DRC. This was the first trial to include scientific evidence and was characterized by widespread cooperation between civil society, NGOs, local, and national actors.

The prosecution of Batumike, a member of Parliament at the time of the trial, set a historic precedent for the prosecuting individuals in positions of power, who usually benefit from widespread impunity, and perpetuates hope for victims and their families who are still awaiting justice.

*Mobile courts are proceedings which are held in the communities where those atrocities occurred. Mobile courts are usually sponsored by NGOs.

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