Rape of a minor: sergeant of the Congolese army sentenced to 14 years in prison
The military tribunal in Bukavu sentenced a sergeant of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) to 14 years in prison and a 15’000 USD compensation for the rape of a 13 year-old girl. A victory for TRIAL International in its fight against impunity for sexual violence, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators.
In September 2016, Judith (real name withheld) was raped in a military camp based in Shabunda, South Kivu. She had been threatened into entering the tent of sergeant Twari Bahizi Theonoeste, a member of the Congolese army (FARDC), who then used force to take advantage of her. Aged 13, the victim got pregnant from the rape.
Threats of reprisals
Judith’s father tried to get justice by denouncing the crime to the sergeant’s hierarchy. Unfortunately, the attempt proved unsuccessful. What is worse, the rapist went on to threaten the victim’s family. Fearing reprisals, the family decided to lay low for a while.
Eventually, the local NGO ACPD – one of TRIAL’s partners in DRC – helped the parents of the victim lodge a complaint in April 2017.
After that, Judith and her family were assisted by a lawyer trained by TRIAL International, free of charge. He provided them with judicial guidance and gathered evidence of the crime. Thanks to the incriminating elements he collected, the Military Prosecutor in Bukavu opened a trial against Twari Bahizi Theoneste in July 2018 for rape of a minor. The lawyer continued assisting Judith and her family throughout the trial.
TRIAL International provided another important form of support: it facilitated Judith’s travel from Shabunda to Bukavu so that she might testify in person during the audiences. If not for that, the 320km journey might have discouraged her, especially given the weakness of the transportation network in Eastern DRC.
In addition to judicial support, the victim was also granted free access to the Panzi hospital, to receive adequate care after the birth of the child conceived during the rape. There, Judith received training in a variety of small jobs. These courses, which are often dispensed to women who have survived sexual abuse, enable the victims to become economically autonomous and therefore to secure a better future.
At last a conviction
Three years after the event, at the end of October 2019, the military tribunal in Bukavu gave its verdict. Sergeant Twari Bahizi Theoneste was found guilty of rape with violence on a minor. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison and to pay 15’000 USD in compensation to the victim. The Congolese State, found civilly liable, was sentenced to pay in solidarity with the defendant – in other words, to step in should the sergeant be unable to cover the sum.
TRIAL International will remain by the side of the victim should the accused appeal the ruling, and is already focused on the long road to obtaining reparations. To this day, none of the victims of sexual violence in DRC has obtained the reparation measures that have been ordered by the Court.