Guilty verdict in the trial of 9 militiamen suspected of war crimes in Bana Ba Ntumba
Geneva, April 21, 2022.
On Tuesday, the Kananga garrison military court delivered its verdict in the mobile court trial that opened on 12 April in Bana Ba Ntumba, Democratic Republic of Congo. The magistrates were trying nine persons allegedly responsible for numerous atrocities committed during military attacks on several villages from April to May 2017 in the territory of Dimbelenge in central Kasai. Belonging to a militia associated with the Kamuina Nsapu insurgency, the nine defendants were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Located in the south of the DRC, the Kasai region is infamous for the violent conflict between the Kamuina Nsapu armed insurgency and the Kinshasa government from 2016 to 2019. The civilian population, caught between the warring parties, suffered mass crimes, most of which are still unpunished.
Between April and May 2017, several villages, including Bana Ba Ntumba in Dimbelenge territory in the province of Kasai Central, were attacked by a militia linked to the Kamuina Nsapu armed insurgency.
A trial resulting from a long collaboration
The trial, which opened on 12 April 2022, saw nine defendants answer for crimes committed against more than 250 victims who had joined the criminal procedure as civil parties before the Kananga Garrison Military Court. The court physically moved to Bana Ba Ntumba to hold the trial where the crimes were committed, in order to facilitate access to justice for the victims and the local community.
Having opened a project in Kasai in 2020, TRIAL International was actively involved in this case. Brought to its attention through exchanges with its Congolese partners, in late 2020 TRIAL International facilitated a documentation mission to Bana Ba Ntumba, during which over 250 victims were identified. In 2021, the military prosecutor completed the investigation in order to obtain all the necessary evidence and collect testimonies from the victims. This led to the indictment against nine militiamen and the organization of the trial. TRIAL International accompanied four lawyers from the Kananga Bar Association who formed a collective representing some 250 civil parties who were victims of the militia’s crimes before the tribunal.
A major milestone for Congolese victims
At the end of the trial, the 9 defendants were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by murder, torture and other inhumane acts, rape and pillage, as well as other ordinary offences. The court awarded judicial reparations ranging from US$2,000 to US$20,000 per victim. The death penalty was pronounced against the perpetrators.
“We are pleased that the Congolese justice system was able to hear the victims of the atrocities committed in Bana Ba Ntumba and that several of those responsible were sanctioned. The qualification of war crimes and crimes against humanity clearly shows the gravity of the acts committed. While waiting to read the full text of the judgement, we are concerned about the use of the death penalty as a punishment for those convicted. Even if the Democratic Republic of Congo has observed a de facto moratorium on executions for a long time, TRIAL International considers the death penalty as a violation of the right to life as well as the right not to be exposed to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, a right that is recognised to every individual, regardless of the crimes he/she may have committed”, underlines Daniele Perissi, Head of the Great Lakes Programme.
“This trial shows that the fight against impunity is progressing in the Kasai region. TRIAL International hopes that other cases concerning crimes committed by the Congolese army during the Kamuina Nsapu conflict will soon lead to trials long-awaited by local communities”, says Guy Mushiata, National Coordinator of TRIAL International in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
TRIAL International’s work on this issue is carried out within the Cadre de Concertation de Kananga, an informal network of international and national actors who collaborate to support the work of Congolese courts in the investigation and prosecution of mass crimes in the DRC.
TRIAL International is collaborating in Kasai Central with Physicians for Human Rights. Their joint project aims to strengthen access to justice by combining their legal and medical expertise. This project is generously supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida.