For Immediate Release
This week, officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) arrested provincial deputy Frederic Batumike Rukembanyi for allegedly leading a militia that is accused of raping and mutilating dozens of young girls and toddlers in the country’s South Kivu province. Members of that militia were also arrested. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes these developments as a first step toward justice in a surge of rapes in eastern Congo that has produced few investigations and prosecutions.
“These arrests are a major breakthrough, signaling that Congolese authorities are at last taking these allegations of sexual violence seriously,” said Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy and partnerships at PHR. “Women and girls in eastern Congo have endured unspeakable brutality. And for too long, justice has seemed like a distant hope. These arrests bring some optimism that those who committed these terrible acts may finally be held accountable.”
According to the Congolese justice ministry, Batumike is charged with crimes against humanity – pursuant to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – including rape, murder, directing an insurrectionist movement, and abductions, among other charges. He’s alleged to have formed and led a militia called “Jeshi ya Yesu,” the Army of Jesus, that reportedly recruited a man who encouraged the rape of young girls to provide “supernatural protection.”
Since 2013, nearly 40 young girls – including some as young as 18 months – have been taken from their homes and raped in the South Kivu village of Kavumu. Often the perpetrators kidnap children in the dead of night, assault them, and then leave them in the fields surrounding the village. Many victims must then be rushed to hospitals to repair their injuries and reproductive organs.
“Parents have gone to bed in Kavumu each night wondering, will my daughter be next?” said PHR’s Sirkin. “And for years, members of Kavumu’s civil society have bravely spoken out against these horrific crimes. We commend their courage, and we now hope these arrests are followed by a thorough and professional investigation, due process, and an independent, impartial trial.”
Over the past five years, PHR has worked in North and South Kivu as well as in the capital, Kinshasa, to spur and support a robust network of doctors, police, lawyers, and judges to respond to cases of sexual assault. PHR and its Congolese partners have trained officials in gathering evidence, conducting forensic examinations, documenting medical evidence of sexual violence, and ensuring that evidence is relayed to proper authorities – all while protecting survivors and treating them with dignity.
“Too often rape has been used to exert power by armed groups in the DRC,” said PHR’s Sirkin. “For decades, the Congolese people have suffered at the hands of both ruthless military forces and cruel militias. Perhaps these arrests mark a new beginning for the DRC, an era in which police and judges, lawmakers and doctors treat sexual violence with the seriousness and gravity it deserves.”
PHR launched the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, a multi-year training and advocacy initiative, in 2011, with the aim of forging coalitions among regional medical, law enforcement, and legal experts in Central and East Africa. PHR’s goal is to dramatically increase local capacity for the collection of court-admissible evidence of sexual violence to support prosecutions for these crimes.
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.