Congo Justice: What Happened in Fizi
April 21, 2011 | by Chuck Sudetic
Photograph courtesy of © Galya Ruffer.
This series of dispatches chronicles the work of a mobile court in the town of Kamituga in eastern Congo, a region riven by conflict that has witnessed an appalling epidemic of rape and other sexual violence. The court, supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative, will try ten rape cases involving soldiers and policemen over the course of a two-week session.
A lawyer representing rape victims at the Kamituga mobile court pulls the document from his briefcase and places it on one of the plastic tables in the tent. The document—a judgment—consists of forty-three finger-smudged, water-stained, letter-size photocopies, held together by a staple fast losing its grip. But the words on its pages are clear. They represent the high-water mark in the struggle to restore rule of law to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The words resonate throughout the work of the Kamituga mobile court and courts elsewhere in this war-ravaged country. Judges, prosecutors, teachers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, military officers, police officials, priests, human rights advocates, pastors, and tribal kings and politicians working to halt the spate of rapes in Congo cite this judgment to warn soldiers, police officers, and civilian men not to assume it is acceptable to violate women. And they cite this judgment, issued by a previous mobile court, to encourage women and girls to step forward to press rape charges.
The title page reads:
In the Interests of Justice and
in the Name of the Congolese People,
The Military Court of Sud-Kivu, Bukavu,
is Seized of the Case of
The Military Prosecutor, the Ministry of Public Security, and Civilian Parties
Kibibi Mutuare Daniel, et al.
The Kibibi judgment, and the incident that led to it, took place near the shores of Lake Tanganika, far across the mountains from Kamituga. It did not involve individual rape cases, like those being tried here. It involved rape as humiliation, rape as an act of retaliation, rape as a weapon of war.