Eleven Congolese government soldiers accused of raping more than 60 women have gone on trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s pioneering “mobile gender court”.
The court exists within the structure of the DRC’s justice system and travels to remote communities that have little access to conventional courts.
The accused – including commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Mutware Kibibi – have been charged with crimes against humanity, including rape and imprisonment.
Operating since October 2009, the court conducts about 10 trials a month and has so far recorded 94 rape convictions. It has also trained 150 judicial police officers, 80 lawyers and 30 magistrates.
The mobile court is co-ordinated by the American Bar Association (ABA) and funded by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) along with the Open Society Justice Initiative.
This latest trial is seen as a test of whether the government is serious about tackling Congo’s reputation as the rape capital of the world, where sexual offenders do not fear prosecution.
According to one UN estimate, more than 160 women are raped in eastern Congo every week. Aid workers say most rapes are not even reported.
An attack on a village in North Kivu province last year, in which 300 women were raped in a few days, led to increased pressure for action and criticism of UN peacekeepers for not doing enough to protect civilians.