A letter from Elsa Taquet
Have you told yourself that access to justice will always remain a utopian ideal in some regions? That we are powerless to end impunity for massive human rights violations committed on other continents? Don’t be mistaken. When our forces unite to denounce and fight against atrocities, justice becomes possible. I was able to see it with my own eyes when I took part in a landmark trial in Kavumu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The crimes committed in this small village in the east of the country shocked the international community because of their cruelty. Between 2013 and 2016, 46 girls between the ages of 8 months and 12 years were kidnapped and raped overnight, before being abandoned in surrounding fields.
The motive for these acts reinforces their sordid character: the suspected perpetrators, members of the “Yeshi Ya Yesu” (Jesus’ Army) militia, took the blood of their young victims in order to acquire supernatural protection against their enemies.
Numerous national and international actors, including TRIAL International, mobilized around this case. Thanks to their perseverance, the victims’ distress resonated beyond the village and ultimately attracted the attention of the local authorities. The suspects were arrested and charged with crimes against humanity. After years of impunity, their trial began this past November 9.
Alongside the victims and their families, TRIAL International worked tirelessly over the course of two years. We travelled on mission multiple times to document these crimes and worked daily with the victims’ Congolese lawyers to strengthen their claims and hone their legal strategy.
Moreover, in collaboration with local NGOs, we facilitated the organization of medical and psychological evaluations of the girls. They were recorded on video to spare the victims from having to retell their stories during the trial – which would have been a very difficult experience for young, already fragile victims still suffering from profound psychological trauma.
The victims’ parents were also deeply affected by the horror of the events and by the generalized atmosphere of terror in the Kavumu area. They still fear for their lives because of the militia’s threats and retaliations. What struck me most during this trial was the contrast between the distress of the parents, faced with their children’s suffering, and complete lack of remorse of the accused.
It is because impunity remains the norm that such atrocities can still occur. In Kavumu, justice has finally been delivered to the victims. 11 militiamen were convicted of crimes against humanity for sexual violence and sentenced to life in prison. This verdict is a victory for justice and the affected communities. By supporting our work, you help victims in Kavumu and elsewhere bring their tortures to justice and regain a sense of peace. Together, let’s send a message of hope to victims around the world!
With all my heart, I thank you again for your trust. Without you, the victims would not have been able to access justice. On behalf of the entire team at TRIAL International, I wish you a joyful holiday season.
PS: Your donation makes all the difference! With CHF 200, you make it possible for a human rights defender to document a grave crime; with CHF 500, you cover the cost of a training for two lawyers in the DRC and in so doing, contribute to the fight against impunity. Thank you for your support!