DRC: Sheka and his accomplice receive life sentences, victims are finally recognized
Geneva/Goma, 23 November 2020. For immediate release.
Two years almost to the day after its opening, the case against the warlord Sheka and his accomplice Lionceau has come to an end. The former Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC) militiamen have been condemned to life imprisonment for war crimes and will no longer impose their rule of terror on North Kivu. A victory against impunity that, not so long ago, would have barely been imaginable.
The case will be remembered as one of the longest and most complex of the last years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After almost two years of trial, the 337 identified victims and the thousands of pages of evidence have convinced the Congolese justice: Sheka and his accomplice Lionceau are guilty of war crimes by murder, sexual slavery, enrolment of child soldiers and – in Sheka’s case – pillage. Lionceau was also condemned for rape constitutive of crimes against humanity (see details of the crimes in the media kit). Both men have been condemned to life imprisonment. A third militiaman received a 15-years sentence; the fourth accused, without hierarchic power, was acquitted.
“We are very satisfied with this verdict” says Daniele Perissi, Head of the Great Lakes Program at TRIAL International. “Not only is it alleviating for the hundreds of victims of the NDC, but it establishes a historic precedent for justice in North Kivu. The authorities have proved today that they were capable of taking on an incredibly complex case, both from a legal and from a security point of view.”
Patient Iraguha, Senior Legal Advisor for TRIAL International in DRC, confirms: “Today’s victory is the result of a tight collaboration between the prosecuting authorities their local and international partners, among which TRIAL International and its partners Avocats sans Frontières and RCN Justice et Démocratie. Given the grip Sheka held on the region, we all needed one another.”
Justice triumphs against the odds
The decision was not a foregone conclusion when Sheka was arrested in 2017. Even behind bars, his influence was so strong that an unprecedented protection scheme was deployed for victims and witnesses (more information in the media kit).
Another specificity of the trial was the quality and quantity of the incriminating evidence. “We are not surprised that the judges confirmed the guilt of Sheka and his accomplices” says Elsa Taquet, a Legal Advisor at TRIAL International who has worked with the victims’ lawyers in the case. “From audiovisual evidence to Sheka’s own logbook, medical certificates and testimonies of child solders, the evidence against the accused was damning.”
The next steps remain unclear
What will now happen for the offenders and their victims? “We do hope Sheka will serve his sentence outside of North Kivu, so that victims and witnesses do not live in the fear of retaliation.” explains Patient Iraguha.
Above all, TRIAL International and its partners will focus on obtaining reparations for the victims. A winding procedure at the best of times, it will be even more complicated in the present case since the Congolese State has not been found guilty. Elsa Taquet says:
“We remain convinced that the State has failed in its duty to protect civilian populations, even if the judges did not retain this argument. Their decision doubtlessly complicates the victims’ access to reparations, but we will still try everything we can to ensure their rights are upheld.”
Many questions are pending and may take months to be solved. But right now, the predominant feeling is relief: justice has triumphed and one of the most feared warlords has finally been punished for his acts.
TRIAL International’s work on this case has been conducted in the framework of the Cadre de concertation, an informal network of international actors collaborating to support the work of Congolese military jurisdictions in the investigation and prosecution of mass crimes in DRC in the North Kivu province.