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In unprecedented decision, Congo sentences military officer for ordering rape

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Pete Muller/AP

(Read caption) Congolese soldiers in green uniforms board a police truck after receiving their sentences in a mass rape trail in the town of Baraka, Democratic Republic of Congo on Feb. 21. Ten of 11 accused solders were found guilty of crimes against humanity including Lt. Col. Mutuare Daniel Kibibi, top center in green, who was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

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On Monday, a landmark verdict was handed down in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the first time in the nation’s history, a commanding officer was tried and sentenced for conflict-related sexual violence. Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware was convicted on four counts of crimes against humanity in a mobile court held in the village of Baraka in the volatile eastern region.

According to the court’s findings, Col. Mutware ordered troops to attack the village of Fizi and to beat and rape civilians on New Year’s Day. Mutware was sentenced to no more than 20 years in prison, although he maintains his innocence.

Among the other 10 soldiers tried for the attack and subsequent mass rape, three of Mutware’s officers also received a 20-year sentence, five received less severe sentences, one officer was acquitted, and one – who is a minor – will be tried in juvenile court, reported the Associated Press’s Michelle Faul from Baraka.

After the attack by elements of the Congolese national army, or FARDC, doctors in Fizi reported treating 62 women for rape. Monday’s sentencing was a result of four days of agonizing testimony from 49 women who testified before a panel of judges. They described hellish beatings and sexual violence they endured; some testified that after the attack they hid in the nearby forest for three weeks. The women’s stories were later recounted in open court, but their identities were protected due to security concerns and social stigma associated with rape victims.

The UN Population Fund estimated that at least 8,000 women were raped in eastern Congo in 2009 – a startling statistic but one that likely underestimates the prevalence of rape. Sexual violence has become a systemic weapon of war used by soldiers and militia groups in the area to intimidate and punish civilians. Witnesses in the Fizi trial testified that the attacks were committed in retaliation for the death of a soldier who had been involved in a dispute with a local shop owner. The soldiers had attacked the village, going door-to-door beating and raping victims from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next day.

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