Kavumu Trial: An Historic Breakthrough
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s High Military Court (HMC) has confirmed the condemnation of the accused in the Kavumu child rape case; which saw 11 defendants (including Frederic Batumike, a Congolese lawmaker and member of the provincial assembly of South Kivu) charged with the kidnap, rape, and mutilation of 46 young girls.
Kavumu is an impoverished village in the South Kivu province, in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and has been traumatised by years of violence and conflict.
Initially, the rapes were treated by local authorities as isolated; however the kidnap, rape, and consequential mutilation of multiple girls in the area proved that the attacks were, in fact, part of a widespread and systematic attack. The assaults, carried out on girls as young as one year old in 2013, ceased in 2016 with Batumike’s arrest. The HMC now confirms these crimes as crimes against humanity (due to their widespread and systematic nature), and Frederic Batumike has also been given lifelong condemnation by the Court.
According to TRIAL International, a Task Force was led by ‘Physicians for Human Rights’ in support of the victims and, in June 2016, the collection of police evidence relating to the assaults resulted in Batumike’s arrest.
In September 2017, 18 suspects (including Batumike) were formally charged with the rapes as crimes against humanity, and murder, among other charges related to attacks against DRC military positions. Batumike’s charges included both the creation of the militia which carried out the crimes, and for ordering the attacks in the first instance.
On December 13, the HMC convicted 11 militants for the sexually violent attacks on 37 girls. All of them, including Batumike, were given life sentences. Each victim was granted $5,000 in damages, and the families of each murdered individual were given $15,000.
Batumike’s appeal trial began on 12th July, however, on 26th July his life sentence was confirmed. The Kavumu trial has been an historic breakthrough, given that it is the first time an acting politician has been found guilty of the crimes committed by him and his militia.
Context – international proceedings
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recognised Uganda’s part in violating the territorial integrity of the DRC in the Second Congo War. Since 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has prosecuted five people in relation to the situation in the Congo. These five people have included infamous war criminal, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, who became the first person ever to be convicted by the ICC.