Frederic Batumike and others – Kavumu Trial
Kavumu is a very poor village in the South Kivu province in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For many years, this region has been the scene of violence, fighting for territories and natural resources, and power struggle.
Between 2013 and 2016, more than 40 young girls in Kavumu, aged between 13 months and 12 years, were kidnapped and raped during the night.
The same process was observed in all cases: after being kidnapped by one or several men, the victim was raped, after which her hymenal blood was taken, sometime with the help of a sharp object, before being abandoned.
Initially, the attacks were considered and treated by the local judicial authorities as isolated cases.
In May 2014, while investigation was being carried out by a prosecutor, a Task Force was created by a group of NGOs, led by “Physicians for Human Rights” to support the victims. In May 2016, after Trial International joined the Task Force, a new judicial strategy was adopted: the victims’ lawyers requested the military prosecutor to take over the case, since the acts were committed as a part of a widespread ou systematic attack against the civilian population, and thus allegedly constituted crimes against humanity. The military prosecutor granted the request and opened an investigation into crimes against humanity.
In June 2016, the first evidence collected by the police led to the arrest of Frederic Batumike, MPP (member of the provincial assembly of South Kivu), and 70 other individuals who were suspected of belonging to a militia, which was allegedly responsible for the systematic rape of the Kavumu girls.
In September 2017, Batumike and 17 other suspects were charged with rape as a crime against humanity, murder, and the organisation of an insurrectional movement and attacks against Congolese military positions.
Batumike was accused of having created the militia responsible for the alleged crimes and for having ordered the attacks.
After many incidents, the trial finally began on 9 November 2017.
On 13 December 2017, the military court of South Kivu convicted 11 militants for sexual violence as crimes against humanity against 37 young girls. The militants were also convicted for their participation in an insurrectional movement and for the murder of individuals who had denounced their abuses. The 11 convicted individuals, including Batumike, were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Reparations amounting to $ 5’000 was granted to each victim of sexual violence. The families of each murdered individuals received $ 15’000.
His appeal trial started on 12 June 2018. On 26 July 2018, his life sentence was confirmed on appeal.
This was the first time in the DRC that an acting politician was found guilty, as a superior, of crimes committed by him and by the militia he controlled and financed. The 11 accused, including Batumike, were found guilty of sexual violence and were sentenced to life imprisonment.
After almost 40 years under the dictatorship of Mobutu, a new period of conflicts broke out in 1996 in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly known as Belgian Congo, Congo-Leopoldville or Zaire), as a result of the spill-over of the civil war raging in the neighboring Rwanda. At the end of the armed conflict – involving Rwanda and Uganda – Mobutu had to abscond, and Laurent-Désiré Kabila become the new Congo’s President.
THE SECOND CONGO WAR
Already in 1998 Kabila’s alliance with Rwanda and Uganda had turned in a state of hostility. Rebel groups engaged an armed conflict against governmental forces. Due to the involvement of about 25 armed groups and eight States – Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe supporting DRC’s government, versus Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi supporting the rebels – the war is also known as Great War of Africa.
On 18 January 2001 Laurent Kabila died for the consequences of an attempt to his life, leaving the country in his son Joseph’s hands. After various ceasefire agreements during the years, the war formally ended in 2002. The peace agreement leads to new elections, won by Joseph Kabila.
THE CONFLICTS IN NORTH KIVU, SOUTH KIVU AND IN ITURI
New armed conflicts continued however in border regions of DRC between governmental forces and rebel groups. Ethnical differences and the high amount of natural resources present in the Kivus and in Ituri are among the main causes of the hostilities. Despite the fragile peace agreements signed in 2007 (Ituri) and in 2009 (Kivus), thousands of people keep dying due to famine and devastations left by the conflicts.
In 2005 the International Court of Justice recognized Uganda’s responsibility for violation of DRC territorial integrity during the Second Congo war, and for the unlawful exploitation of a consistent amount of DRC’s natural resources.
In 2005 Joseph Kabila referred DRC’s situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking the Prosecutor to open investigations on crimes committed anywhere on DRC’s territory since the entry into force of the ICC Statute. To date the ICC has indicted five people for the situation in DRC. Among these, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was the first person ever to be convicted by the ICC.