In a groundbreaking decision, a mobile court in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has found four army officers guilty of rape and terrorism as crimes against humanity for the New Year's Day mass attacks in the village of Fizi. The court sentenced the leaders to 20 years of imprisonment.
Five lower-level soldiers were found guilty of rape and inhumane acts and sentenced to either 10 or 15 years imprisonment. A 16-year-old was found to be outside the jurisdiction of the military court and will apparently be tried in juvenile court. Hundreds of villagers turned out to hear the verdict and clapped their approval at the convictions.
The case represents an unprecedented victory for justice and the rule of law in a country where impunity is the norm and accountability the rare exception.
The mobile court—held in Baraka, an eight-hour drive from Bukavu, in the eastern DRC—demonstrates that when there is a will, there is a way. The Congolese judges, prosecutor, defense counsel, and civil party lawyers worked tirelessly for nearly two weeks to adjudicate this joint trial in a remote village without access to running water or regular electricity. Millions more await justice, but this trial has given a glimmer of hope for the future.
The raped women still live in mud huts, still struggle daily to survive, and many will still be rejected by their husbands. But now they have received something fleeting but incredibly precious: justice. Hopefully they will at least sleep better knowing they had a chance to tell their story in a court of law, the judges believed them and decided those responsible should spend a sizable part of their life behind bars as punishment, and thus others won't be similarly victimized by these same men. That in itself is empowering.