A letter from Elsa Taquet
When our forces unite to denounce and fight against atrocities, justice becomes possible. The Kavumu case, which I got the chance to participate in, is the best illustration that when national and international actors combine their efforts to obtain justice, it makes it possible to fight against systematic impunity, such as in this landmark trial.
The crimes committed in the small village of Kavumu in Eastern DRC shocked the international community because of their cruelty. Between 2013 and 2016, 46 girls between the ages of 8 months and 12 years were kidnapped and raped overnight, before being abandoned in surrounding fields.
The motive for these acts reinforces their sordid character: the suspected perpetrators, members of the “Yeshi Ya Yesu” (Jesus’ Army) militia, took the blood of their young victims in order to acquire supernatural protection against their enemies.
The complexity and depravity of these crimes has put the Congolese justice system under severe strain. Among the challenges: the age of survivors and the manner in which the crimes were committed (often at night, while families were sleeping, and there are allegations victims may have been drugged to keep them unconscious). That compelled judicial authorities to work closely with the NGO-led task force from 2016 through 2017 to conduct a thorough investigation and gather the necessary evidence to support the prosecutor’s case.
Experts from different fields (scientific police, forensics, legal and psychological experts) helped answering the victims’ specific needs while contributing to the judicial process in the respect of the ‘do no harm’ principle. After years of impunity, the suspects were arrested and charged with crimes against humanity. Their conviction is unprecedented.
Alongside the victims and their families, TRIAL International worked tirelessly over the course of two years. We travelled on mission multiple times to document these crimes and worked daily with the victims’ Congolese lawyers to strengthen their claims and hone their legal strategy. Throughout the trial, we assisted the lawyers with our legal expertise and experience regarding the prosecution of mass crimes’ cases, resulting in the condemnation for crimes against humanity.
Moreover, in collaboration with local NGOs, we facilitated the organization of medical and psychological evaluations of the girls. They were recorded on video to spare the victims from having to retell their stories during the trial – which would have been a very difficult experience for young, already fragile victims still suffering from profound psychological trauma. We also assisted the plaintiffs’ lawyers in their request for exceptional protective measures to be adopted during the procedure, to protect the young girls and their families from re-victimization.
The victims’ parents were also deeply affected by the horror of the events and by the generalized atmosphere of terror in the Kavumu area. They still fear for their lives because of the militia’s threats and retaliations. What struck me most during this trial was the contrast between the distress of the parents, faced with their children’s suffering, and complete lack of remorse of the accused.
It is because impunity remains the norm that such atrocities can still occur. In Kavumu, justice has finally been delivered to the victims. 11 militiamen were convicted of crimes against humanity for sexual violence and sentenced to life in prison. This verdict is a victory for justice and the affected communities.
By supporting our work, you help victims in Kavumu and elsewhere bring their tortures to justice and regain a sense of peace. Together, let’s send a message of hope to victims around the world!
PS: Your donation makes all the difference! With CHF 200, you make it possible for a human rights defender to document a grave crime; with CHF 500, you cover the cost of a training for two lawyers in the DRC and in so doing, contribute to the fight against impunity. Thank you for your support!