The trial of 18 militia men for the rape of young girls, one of whom was as young as 18 months old, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been hailed as a strong signal that rape should not be tolerated in a country that has become known as the ‘rape capital of the world’.
The men stand accused of raping 46 children between 2013 and 2016 and at least two of their victims died following the assaults, according to Charles Cubaka Cicura, a lawyer representing the victims.
The suspects who are members of the Djeshi ya Yesu militia (‘The Army of Jesus’ in Swahili) which was led by Batumike, saidColonel Roger Wavara, specifically targeted young girls because their spiritual adviser, “a witch doctor who advised the militiamen to rape very young girls and thereby gain supernatural protection.” Cicura said.
Frederic Batumike, a deputy from South Kivu province, and members of a militia he led were arrested in June last year. Batumike and 17 others face charges of “crimes against humanity through rape and murder … and taking part in an insurrectional movement,” All have denied the allegations.
Jean Chrysostome Kijana, an activist representing the victims, told Reuters:”The start of the trial is a strong signal in the fight against impunity.”
The proceedings on Thursday 16 November, lasted only 20 minutes with the reading aloud of the names of the defendants, though it started about 10 hours late.
“The delay to proceedings did raise fears that the trial could end up just being “yet another in a long list of botched trials,” said Kijani.
The trial will be very difficult to prosecute, according to advocacy groups, because the victims were so young and “Their families were often asleep when the alleged rapes occurred.”
According to the government, Batumike’s militia and villagers in DRC believe a magic powder was being used to induce sleep, so the victims are sometimes unaware of the rape.
“I thought… Could they [the attackers] be using some kind of herbal anaesthetic? It actually turned out to be true. They were,” Lauren Wolfe, an investigator, told BBC Newsday.
Denis Mukwege, a global expert from Congo on treating gang rape victims, said, “How can someone kidnap a child at night and bring her in the bush to rape her?” Mukwege had told AFP in an interview in 2015. “The condition of the babies who arrive to us like that at the hospital is dramatic. These are things that are completely new,” he said.
DRC has been called “the rape capital of the world.”
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos