A military tribunal in Bukavu sentenced private Bolingo Katusi to 15 years imprisonment for the rape of two women in the village of Mukoloka, in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As night gathered on 14 September 2013, Mrs Sylvie and Yvette (pseudonyms) prepared to go to sleep in their respective rooms of their common house. Yvette was attending to her baby boy.
Taking advantage of the men’s absence, private Bolingo Katusi broke into their house threatening the two women with his rifle. He forced himself on Sylvie and Yvette, who tried to resist him. During the fight, her baby boy fell to the ground. He succumbed to his injuries within days.
Bolingo Katusi is a soldier in the Congolese military, deployed in Mukoloka a few months earlier to free the area of the armed group Raiya Mutomboki, itself sowing terror among the civilian population. Stories of abuse perpetrated against citizens by those supposed to protect them are sadly common in the region.
Travelling for 3 days to testify
Bolingo was arrested by his superior the day after his crime, only to break out of jail soon afterwards. He was arrested again in 2015 and held in prison.
The accused stood trial before a military tribunal in Bukavu. A local NGO trained by TRIAL International** was in charge of gathering evidence – no mean feat in this remote village, almost 2 years after the deed. The testimonies of the victims in court, however, soon proved indispensable to the proceedings.
And so Yvette and Sylvie embarked in the longest journey of their life: with the support of TRIAL International, they travelled by motorbike, car and plane for three days, all the way to Bukavu. Neither had left their village before.
During the hearings, both women bravely recounted the night Bolingo Katusi forced himself on them. They were assisted throughout the proceedings by a local lawyer coached by TRIAL International.
A victory for all rape victims
At last, in July 2016, M. Bolingo was found responsible for the double rape of Sylvie and Yvette, and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. The judges also ordered him to pay 20’000 USD to each of the victims as reparation for the prejudice suffered.
Rape is a plague affecting thousands of women in Eastern DRC, and each condemnation is a victory for all of them. The fact that the accused was a member of the military is also a powerful deterrent for those men in uniform all too used to commit atrocities with impunity.
Sylvie and Yvette have shown incredible courage in accepting to testify, in spite of widespread stigma attached to sexual violence. TRIAL also salutes the excellent documenting and litigating work carried out by local lawyers and human rights defenders.
TRIAL and its partners now face a new legal battle: that to enact the compensation measures ordered by the judges. Despite hundreds of similar condemnations, not a single victim of sexual violence has ever received reparations.
** The training program offered by TRIAL International to local NGOs on the documentation of sexual violence crimes according to the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict was possible thanks to the support of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office