On Monday, February 21, Lt. Col. Kibibi Mutware became the first military officer to be convicted and sentenced for war crimes related to sexual violence in the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the past, only individual soldiers had faced criminal repercussions and officers were protected from any sort of retribution.
Lt. Col. Mutware was charged with ordering the attack on the village of Fizi and telling his soldiers to beat and rape the women. At least 33 women were raped on the attack. The United Nations estimates that over 8,000 women were raped in the DRC in 2009, though some estimates go as high as 15,000.
As a blogger for the Christian Science Monitor points out:
The sentencing of Col. Mutware and his officers is a significant step toward ending impunity for sexual violence. Although close to 50 rape survivors testified in court, many others are presumed to have stayed silent for fear of being shunned by their husbands or communities, or out of concern that the military would retaliate.
The government has promised to pay each woman who testified $10,000 in compensation. This may seem low, but in a village in Eastern DRC that could be about 15-20 years of income.
While this conviction is a major sign of progress for the DRC, and hopefully a step towards putting an end to the violence and mass rapes in the east, other aspects of the country are troubling.
Last night in the Capital city of Kinshasa, an estimated 50 armed gunmen attacked DRC President Joseph Kabila, seriously injuring one of his guards in the attempted coup. Seven of the attackers were left dead.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende said on a national television broadcast, “The gunmen were “enemies of peace” who wanted to disrupt the coming elections.”
The DRC is planning to hold presidential elections this coming November, and tensions are high in regards to how the elections will play out.
A Congolese women who works with us on our project has told me that her husband, a Belgium ex-pat who works for the UN in Kinshasa, and herself are planning to return to Belgium before the elections. They don’t want to be here in case violence breaks out during the lead up to the elections and the aftermath.
I’ll be back in America long before the election process really gets started, but I will be paying attention to how it progresses.