DR Congo ex-warlord gets life term for war crimes

Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka was convicted of murder, rape, sexual slavery and recruitment of minors under 15, a military court ruled at the end of a two-year trial.

A former militia leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was sentenced Monday to life in prison for war crimes and mass rape, a decision hailed by the United Nations as a blow against the “impunity” of armed groups.

Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka was convicted of “murder, rape, sexual slavery and enlistment of minors under 15 years of age,” ruled a military court at the end of a two-year trial.

The decision was hailed by NGOs and the UN representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Leila Zerrougui, said the ruling showed that “impunity is not inevitable.”

Sheka founded the Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC) militia, active in the troubled North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he claimed to be fighting the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the FDLR.

An arrest warrant was issued in January 2011 after a series of attacks in which the NDC and two other groups allegedly raped nearly 400 people in 13 villages between July 30 and August 2, 2010.

The NDC was also accused of having recruited at least 154 children into its ranks.

His soldiers were blamed for razing nearly 1,000 homes and businesses and leading about 100 people into forced labor.

Due to allegations of rape and other acts that could constitute crimes against humanity, Sheka had been the subject of UN sanctions, including freezing of her assets and a worldwide travel ban.

He surrendered to the UN peacekeepers in July 2017 and was prosecuted along with three co-defendants.

One of his co-defendants was also sentenced to life in prison on Monday, another to 15 years in prison and the latter was acquitted, according to the verdict of the North Kivu Military Operational Court.

“We are satisfied with this verdict, it is a strong signal for other warlords,” Kahindo Fatuma, a spokesperson representing the victims, told AFP. “The victims will be a little relieved.”

Sheka’s conviction “is an important step in the fight against impunity and a testimony to all those who took personal risks in pursuit of justice,” said Thomas Fessy, senior researcher on the Congo at Human Rights Watch.

It is an important step in the fight against impunity and a testimony for all those who took personal risks in the search for justice ”.

– ‘Incredibly complex’ –

“The authorities have shown today that they are capable of handling an incredibly complex case, both from a legal and a security point of view,” Daniele Perissi, head of the Great Lakes Program at the NGO TRIAL International, said in a statement.

Dozens of armed groups are active in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, a lawless region rich in mineral resources. They have wreaked havoc there in the decades since the official end of the 1998-2003 war, which claimed millions of lives.

The NDC still exists under the name NDC-Renovated, or NDC / R.

Last July, a faction of the NDC / R overthrew its leader, Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, accusing him of “serious violations”.

The new leaders of the movement also affirmed their willingness to “surrender their weapons.”

Over eight months, around 1,300 people died in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, according to a UN estimate in June.

The ADF, one of the most notorious armed groups ravaging the eastern provinces, is accused of killing more than 800 civilians in the Beni region since October 2019.

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