Kavumu is a particularly poor village situated in the province of South Kivu, in Eastern DRC. Not far from the provincial capital Bukavu, this zone has been the theatre of extreme violence for years, with groups fighting for power over land and resources.
Kavumu case: young girls abducted at night and raped
Between 2013 and 2016 in the village of Kavumu, over forty young girls aged 13 months to 12 years have been abducted at night and raped.
Each case followed the same modus operandi: after having been kidnapped by one or several men, the victim was raped and her hymnal blood collected – sometimes with the help of a sharp object – before she was abandoned on the spot. The majority of these girls now suffer permanent damage to their genital organs and are heavily traumatized.
Initially, these attacks were considered as isolated events and treated as such by the local judicial authorities. Psychologically vulnerable, the victims and their families nevertheless found the courage to approach the local prosecutor.
However, in spite of the intervention of a Task Force set up by the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, no action was undertaken. It is only in mid-2015 that the national government recognized these crimes were of crucial importance for the authorities in Kinshasa.
At the beginning of 2016, following the integration of TRIAL International to the Task Force, a new legal strategy was adopted.
The victims’ lawyers asked the military prosecutor to take up the case, invoking that the crimes were linked together. In fact, the existence of a systematic or generalized attack on civilians meant these facts could be qualified as crimes against humanity.
The military prosecutor agreed to the request and opened an inquiry for mass crimes.
In June 2016, the first evidence collected by the police led to the arrest of Frederic Batumike. This provincial representative (and member of the Provicial Assembly of Bukavu) was arrested alongside 70 other individuals suspected of belonging to a militia responsible for the rapes of Kavumu. That same militia is suspected of having orchestrated deadly attacks against local human rights defenders and military settlements.
The age of the victims and the way the crimes were committed (by night while the parents were sleeping, without witnesses and using drugs to keep the victims unconscious) led the authorities to collaborate with the Task Force. Together, they investigated and collected the necessary evidence to corroborate the prosecution’s arguments.
In September 2017, the military prosecutor indicted 18 individuals for rape as crimes against humanity and additional crimes such as murder, organization in a militia and attacks against Congolese military settlements.
According to the indictment, Batumike has created and organized the militia, and ordered the commission of these crimes. The other 17 are accused of participating to a militia and contributing to the aforementioned crimes.
The criminal trial was initially planned from 6 to 23 November 2017. Due to unforeseen circumstances it has been rescheduled to start on 9 November 2017.
On 13 December 2017, the first judgment rendered justice to Kavumu’s children : 11 Congolese militia members, were convicted of crimes against humanity for murder and the rape of 37 young children.
On 12 June 2018, the appeal hearings were initiated in Bukavu before the Congolese Military High Court.