15 December 2014
Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) welcomes today’s decision by the South Kivu Military Court to convict Colonel Bedi Mobuli Engangela, known as Colonel “106”, to life in prison for crimes against humanity. The former high-ranking officer and warlord is one of those responsible for the violence committed in South Kivu between 2005-2007 which affected over 1,000 civilian victims. This sentence sets a clear precedent in the fight against impunity. However, ASF remains worried about the risk of reprisals against the victims who testified against their persecutor during the trial.
Arrested in 2007, the Colonel has been the subject of a criminal investigation since 2011, accused not only of having lead members of his militia to commit acts that constitute crimes against humanity (including murder, rape, serious infringements of physical or mental health and imprisonment), but also of having committed such crimes personally.
The name “106” refers to the warlord’s number on the list drawn up by the United Nations Security Council which calls for the arrest and trial of a number of people responsible for international crimes.
His trial started on 11 August 2014. Of the 1,181 victims that ASF has met, 753 were classed as civil parties and 83 were able to testify at the hearings. Their testimonies revealed the horror of the crimes committed during attacks on over 20 villages.
The victims were kidnapped and forced to carry the goods that had been taken to the militia’s headquarters tied together with a rope “like slaves”. “It is like we were the Colonel’s private property”, recounted one victim. “We’re testifying so that if other women go through the same thing, they will have the courage to testify”, stated another victim before the start of the trial.
Today’s decision, seven years after the events, sends a strong message from the Congolese justice system to other violent criminals. “This shows that these crimes will not go unpunished”, says Dominique Kamuandu, ASF International Justice Coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Military Court also decided to grant reparation to victims on the basis of the crimes they suffered. This is an important stage in restoring not only dignity to victims, but also their futures. “We now expect the Congolese State to honour this verdict that shows solidarity with victims and pay them the amounts agreed (between USD 500 and 15,000 depending on the crimes committed)”, stated Dominique Kamuandu.
The courage of the victims and witnesses goes together with their fear of reprisals. “Those complicit in the crimes committed and the accused’s accomplices may seek to punish the victims for their participation in the trial”, warned the ASF Coordinator. “We call on the Congolese authorities to put in place all the necessary measures to ensure their protection.”
In cooperation with Congolese civil society organisations, since 2011 ASF has been leading missions to collect accounts, identify victims and raise awareness about participating in the legal proceedings. Over 750 people were classed as civil parties and granted proxy to a collective of lawyers provided by ASF to represent their interests. ASF took responsibility for moving and housing the victims who agreed to testify, demonstrating the utmost vigilance with regard to their safety.