Congolese Fighters Convicted for Mass Rape of Children, Crimes Against Humanity
The judgement comes as part of the Congolese Government's effort to crackdown on the mass rape culture that has plagued the country for decades.
Twelve militiamen from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were convicted of abducting, assaulting and then raping as many as 47 young girls and toddlers, who were between eight months and 12 years old at the time of the assaults.
They also engaged in sporadic murder sprees against adult men from 2013 to 2016.
The fighters belonged to the Djeshi ya Yesu (The Army of Jesus), a militant group operating in Kavumu, in the eastern DRC.
They were led by provincial MP Frederic Batumike, who told the men that raping children would give them mystical powers, which would protect them from the enemies in battle.
Batumike, who amassed significant political and financial power in Kavumu, was among the defendants, despite his prolonged efforts to stall the proceedings by attempting to disqualify judges.
In fact, the victims and family members had to deliver their testimonies while completely concealed by long shapeless pieces of cloth and using voice augmentation technology, in order to protect their identities from the powerful regional boss.
The military tribunal, however, found all defendants guilty and sentenced them "to life in prison for the crime against humanity of rape and murder."
The move comes as part of the broader initiative by the DRC government to combat mass rape culture and other human rights violations.
The widespread sexual assaults and the government's inability to properly address them compelled UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallström to describe the DRC as the "rape capital of the world" in 2010.
However, the court's decision is only a partial victory for the affected children and their families.
Although each girl was awarded $5,000 in damages for the horrific injuries they sustained, the military tribunal found that the Congolese Government itself is not responsible for the men's actions and thus will not be paying the damages.