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Congo, The Democratic Republic of the: Rape Convictions of Only Two of 39 Accused Controversial

(May 13, 2014) On May 5, 2014, a military court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) found two soldiers guilty of rape and 24 others guilty of looting and other crimes. The two were among 39 soldiers accused of assaulting more than 130 women in South Kivu province in 2012; it was the largest rape trial in the country’s history. (Benjamin Minegar, DRC Court Finds 2 of 39 Soldiers Guilty of Rape, PAPER CHASE (May 5, 2014).) The two convicted rapists were sentenced to life imprisonment. (DRC: Court Sentence [sic] Rape Perpetrators to Life Imprisonment, Lawyer Claims Army Officers Set Free, BBC WORLD SERVICE (May 5, 2014), Open Source Center online subscription database, No. AFR2014050637555402.)

There have been disparate reactions to the verdicts. Human rights groups have questioned the low conviction rate, and an attorney from the DRC raised the issue that the two who were convicted were ordinary soldiers, while the accused top-ranking officers were released. (Id.) The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called the decision inadequate and said that it showed the shortcomings of the DRC’s justice system. Rupert Colville of the OHCHR said that “the judiciary has not met the expectations of the numerous victims of rape who had fully participated in the trial.” (UN Human Rights Office “Disappointed” by Ruling in DR Congo Mass Rape Trial, UN NEWS CENTRE (May 6, 2014).)

However, while rape has become a widespread aspect of the civil conflict in the DRC, rape convictions in general are rare in the country. The trial was also seen as a step forward, giving a voice to victims. (Minegar, supra.)

About one month prior to the decision, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC had issued a report on sexual violence committed by both government troops and rebel groups in the years 2010 through 2013; 3,635 cases of sexual violence were noted during that time. (Id.; DRC: Some Progress in the Fight Against Impunity but Rape Still Widespread and Largely Unpunished – UN Report, OCHCHR website (Apr. 9, 2014).)