Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes today’s appeal judgment delivered by the High Military Court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), confirming the conviction of 11 men, including a provincial lawmaker, who were found guilty in a 2017 trial of crimes against humanity for the rape of dozens of young girls as well as for murder. As documented in this brief PHR video, some of the rape victims were as young as 18 months old.
The High Military Court adhered closely to the reasoning of the trial judgment. In particular, the court confirmed the waiving of immunity for local lawmaker Frederic Batumike, who is the leader of the armed group that carried out the rapes. It also rejected all attempts by the defendants to discredit the jurisdiction of the court and upheld life sentences for all.
Karen Naimer, director of PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, said today’s appeal judgment confirms the power of proper investigations and an evidence-based justice process. “The Kavumu case captured the world’s attention because of the young age of the survivors, the brutal injuries they endured, and the terror that gripped the families and community for more than three years. This landmark victory – at both the trial and appeal levels – has set a crucial precedent for Congolese justice: even a formidable lawmaker who abused power, and members of a powerful militia that abducted, raped, and instilled fear, are no longer be able to do so with impunity. With solid and compelling medical and legal evidence, the perpetrators of these grotesque crimes are finally being held to account and the survivors and their families will finally obtain a measure of justice.”
The High Military Court’s decision to begin the appeals process so promptly after the initial trial, which concluded in December 2017, and to hold proceedings in Bukavu, near to where the crimes took place – and not a thousand miles away in the capital of Kinshasa, where appeals proceedings usually take place – was vital.
“The appeals process demonstrated a commitment to due process. Justice delayed is truly justice denied for both the accused and for the survivors and their families. And because the proceedings were held in Bukavu, the key stakeholders were able to participate, reinforcing the community’s connection to the justice process,” Naimer said.
The landmark Kavumu trial benefited from collaboration among medical, legal, and law enforcement officials to gather forensic evidence of sexual violence as well as cooperation among the survivors’ families, representatives of civil society, NGOs, and local, national, and regional experts, including PHR, TRIAL International, and Panzi Hospital.
“This case demonstrates the importance of supporting national processes, which constitute the first and primary avenue for justice, including for international crimes such as those committed in Kavumu. It also shows that it is essential to train medical and legal professionals and to support multi-sectoral collaboration at every stage of the justice process in order to ensure that comprehensive medical evidence of crimes is gathered to bring perpetrators to justice,” explained Naimer.
Daniele Perissi, head of TRIAL International’s DRC program, said that the verdict sent a clear message about the justice system in the DRC: “Congolese law includes all the necessary provisions for strong, fair, and accessible justice for all. With this decision, the military high court is urging authorities to enforce the law in its widest interpretation possible.”
But Naimer cautioned that the fight is not over: “It is now imperative that the survivors of these horrific crimes receive the reparations they were awarded without delay. It is also vital that survivors and their families, as well as witnesses, are afforded comprehensive protections and ongoing psychosocial support, and that they are shielded from the threat of reprisal or retaliation.
“PHR and its partners will redouble their efforts to ensure that comprehensive medical evidence of crimes can continue to be gathered to bring future perpetrators to justice. This will ensure that the Kavumu case is not an isolated success, but a blueprint for future justice processes for sexual violence survivors in the DRC.”
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Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.