Sexual violence: "Nobody is above the law, not even the military."

Oct 9, 2013

Copyright UNDP-DRC

"Au tribunal militaire de garnison, à mon commandement! Présentez armes!" Upon this command by the soldier, those present to rise to their feet for the start of the last day of the mobile court hearings of the Military Tribunal of the Garrison of Goma, established in Bweremana (North Kivu) from 27 August to 5 September.

A large crowd has gathered around the temporary courtroom constructed of tarpaulins and wooden beams. After ten days of trials, the atmosphere is thick with anticipation of the verdicts. Seven of the eight cases tried involve allegations of sexual violence. The eighth is a murder case.

Captain Magistrate Bienvenu Muanansele, a member of the Military Tribunal of the Garrison of Goma, explains why the trials have taken place among the inhabitants of Bweremana.

"It was important to hear the cases here since it is right here that the incidents took place. These trials allow the inhabitants to see how justice works ...and also to see that the law is supreme, even for soldiers."

The Captain Magistrate has the verdicts of the tribunal translated into the local language so that they will be understood.

The sentences handed down are intended to act as an example. While some of those convicted accept the decision of the tribunal, others announce that they wish to appeal, as permitted by law. By the end of the hearing, two of the ten defendants judged by the tribunal have been acquitted.

According to Chrysostome Mangobo, one of the defence lawyers for the accused, "Defendants have rights in relation to a tribunal... and the acquittals that have been handed down today demonstrate that those accused are not necessarily guilty." 

In connection with these mobile court hearings in Bweremana, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported the Bar Association and the Military Tribunal of the Garrison of Goma in order to arrange two defence lawyers, of which Chrysostome Mangobo was one.

The Uvira mobile court hearings (South Kivu) reported on Radio Okapi.

There is a description of the support lent to the military justice system and the role of Prosecution Support Cells (PSCs) on the website of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

UNDP thereby ensures that the rights of accused soldiers are respected, in accordance with article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In this connection, UNDP has also dispatched an observer to assess whether hearings correspond to standards of fair trials.

These actions are part of the broader project to support military justice in the DRC. Financed by the European Union, this project brings together UNDP and the Prosection Support Cell of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in partnership with the American Bar Association (ABA).

Since July 2013 this project has allowed UNDP to provide defence lawyers for defendants. In South Kivu, UNDP support allowed eight defendants to be represented by two lawyers nominated by the Bar Association of Bukavu, in addition to the cases heard by the Military Tribunal of the Garrison of Goma at Bweremana.

At the end of the mobile court, a senior officer, Sub-lieutenant Dalé Yanzenge, insists on telling us that "this trial shows that nobody is above the law, not even the military. Our military justice system exists to demonstrate to soldiers that they have to obey the law and protect civilians."

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