- Associated Press - Monday, February 21, 2011

BARAKA, Congo | A Congolese court sentenced an army colonel to 20 years in prison Monday, convicting him of crimes against humanity in the highest-profile sexual-violence case ever tried in this nation where thousands are brutally raped each year.

The trial held in a torridly hot makeshift courtroom in the lakeside village of Baraka marks the first time a commanding officer has been tried for such a crime.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Lt. Col. Mutuare Daniel Kibibi, 46, who was accused of ordering his troops to attack on New Year’s Day the village of Fizi, where doctors later treated 62 women for rape. One woman testified that Kibibi himself raped her for 40 minutes.

As the defendants were being led away in handcuffs, hundreds of people jeered at them, booed and shook their fists. Some shouted, “Kibibi, you thought you could get away with this. Now you are going to jail” and “You must pay for your crimes.”

Kibibi, who is married with eight children, was convicted of four counts of crimes against humanity but will serve no more than 20 years in prison. He denies all the charges and says the court testimony by his bodyguards was all part of a plot to denigrate him.

Kibibi’s lawyer, Alfred Maisha, described his client as a “valiant hero” who had served in the army since 1984 and had put his life at risk many times in the defense of the country. Mr. Maisha said many of the troops under Kibibi’s command were poorly trained and included former members of rebel and militia groups.

Witnesses said the soldiers descended in a fury upon the village of Fizi after residents there stoned to death a soldier who had been involved in an altercation with a local shop owner. On New Year’s Day, the soldiers smashed down doors and went house to house, pillaging, beating and raping, from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. the following day.

The 49 women who testified about those attacks are to receive up to $10,000 each in compensation from the government as part of the verdict handed down Monday. Unspecified other damages must be paid for victims’ “humiliation, degradation of their health, social stigmatization, risk of divorce, and possibility of HIV,” presiding judge Col. Fredy Mukendi ordered Monday.

Rape has long been used as a brutal weapon of war in eastern Congo, where soldiers and various militia groups use sexual violence to intimidate, punish and control the population.

At least 8,300 rapes were reported in 2009 alone, and aid workers say the true toll is much higher. The victims have even included a month-old baby boy and elderly women, and even the biggest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world of 18,000 troops has been unable to end the violence.

The mobile court of military judges and pro bono lawyers that tried Kibibi and the others was paid for by George Soros’ Open Society Initiative and aided by several agencies including the American Bar Association, Lawyers Without Borders and the U.N. Mission to Congo.


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