United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura welcomed today the conviction of a senior army officer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for crimes against humanity, saying the verdict sends a “very clear message to perpetrators of sexual violence in DRC that they cannot hide behind a badge or evade justice with a uniform.”
Former FARDC (DRC national armed forces) Lieutenant Colonel Bedi Mobuli Engangela, also called “Colonel 106” after the battalion he commanded in South Kivu, was convicted yesterday and sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in his homeland for crimes against humanity, including a 20 year sentence for rape and a 15 year sentence for sexual slavery, according to a press release from Ms. Bangura’s Office.
He was one of five senior officers of the FARDC suspected of having committed serious human rights abuses, and whom the Secretary-General, the Security Council, and Ms. Bengura, had continuously requested the DRC Government to take action against.
The decision by the military court in Bukavu in South Kivu province in eastern DRC is just the latest in a recent string of convictions of military and police officers for sexual violence crimes.
In November FARDC General Jerome Kakwavu was sentenced to 10 years in prison for rape, murder and torture, the first case ever in which a general faced prosecution by a military tribunal in DRC for rape.
In October 25 FARDC soldiers and national police officers (PNC) officers were convicted in the rapes of women and girls in separate cases in North Kivu Province and Kasai Occidental Province.
“These trials, and ultimately convictions, send a very clear message to perpetrators of sexual violence in DRC that they cannot hide behind a badge or evade justice with a uniform, and that no matter how high ranking they may be, they are not above the law,” said Ms. Bangura.
“With these prosecutions and sentencing the courts have also shown survivors that their voices and cries have been heard, and they will not have to suffer in silence or be denied justice, because their Government supports their right to redress,” she added.
She also said that the convictions demonstrate that the work being undertaken by the DRC Government to end impunity for crimes of sexual violence is bearing fruit, and the State is making progress in its efforts to combat and eradicate this scourge.
“While much work remains to be done, including in the area of providing services, reparations, and support for survivors,” the statement said, “political leaders, justice officials, military commanders and other stakeholders are showing what can be accomplished when leaders are committed to creating a country free from sexual violence.”
Ms. Bangura’s sentiments were echoed by the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which issued a statement applauding the Congolese authorities for their efforts and for sending a strong message that grave human rights violations will not go unpunished.
Abdoul Aziz Thioye, acting Director of the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC added that the conviction marks the culmination of seven years of efforts by the Congolese justice authorities with support from MONUSCO, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), as well as national and international non-governmental organizations working to fight impunity.