By Prosper Makene
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reaffirmed its commitment to fighting sexual violence in conflict with the launch of a Military Justice Book at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa last week.
The Book, which was written by the magistrates of the DRC’s Military High Court in partnership with the office of the Personal Representative of the President on sexual violence and child recruitment, Ms Jeanine Mabunda, highlights the ongoing fight being waged in the DRC against impunity for crimes of sexual violence with case studies of successful, sometimes infamous prosecutions.
Given the current unrest in some regions of the DRC, the Book’s launch is an important milestone that reminds institutions of the country’s lack of tolerance for those who commit acts of sexual violence during conflict.
The launch comes shortly after the publication of a 2016 UN report which records an 85% decrease in reported cases of conflict-related sexual violence in the DRC over the last three years.
The launch event was attended by diplomatic leaders from across the continent including the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, and high-level representatives from the business and academic communities. Mr. Smaïl Chergui, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, who also attended the launch, said: "the Commission of the African Union welcomes the efforts made by Ms Jeanine Mabunda, who has achieved important results and reiterates its support to putting an end to this scourge, on the entire territory of the DRC".
Ms Mabunda, who co-hosted the event with Mr. Smaïl Chergui, called for continued pressure on institutions to hold offenders to account:
“The Military Justice Book is the result of my office’s partnership with the Military High Court and our joint efforts to fight against impunity for conflict-related sexual violence. I am proud to launch a book which brings to light the judicial efforts made to tackle this kind of violence in the DRC.
“We are not complacent. Recent fighting, especially in Kasai province, shows that we still have a long way to go. However, we strongly believe the prosecution of perpetrators of all ranks in the military is a critical step in the fight against conflict-related sexual violence in the DRC. We will continue to fight for justice for the victims, and end the impunity of the perpetrators of these crimes.”
The Military Justice Book is a collection of ten cases that were brought before the Military High Court and involved sexual violence committed by men serving in the military at the time. Two of the cases included are the well-known 2003 Songo Mboyo mass rape and 2014 General Kakwavu cases. General Jerome Kakwavu is the first Congolese general to be successfully prosecuted for rape.
The case is considered a turning point in the fight against impunity for conflict-related sexual violence. In the Songo Mboyo case, the military court convicted the servicemen of crimes against humanity in accordance with the Rome Statute.
Events have recently taken place across the DRC to mark International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This includes the opening of a specialist gynaecological centre dedicated to the care of victims of sexual violence at the General Referral Hospital of Kintambo, and workshops for troops on sexual violence laws as well as training sessions for FARDC officers based in Kasai, hosted by The Civic Education, Social Action Service.