New York, 24 November 2020: Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, welcome yesterday’s conviction by the Cour Militaire Opérationnelle of North Kivu of Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka of the Nduma Defence of Congo armed group (NDC-Sheka) for war crimes including rape, sexual slavery and the recruitment of children. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Sheka and his co-conspirators, including Séraphin Nzitonda Habimana (alias Lionceau) of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), were tried for mass crimes in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2010 and 2017, which included attacks against civilians in Walikale territory in 2010 where the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office established that at least 387 civilians suffered sexual violence. The Security Council condemned these attacks in the strongest terms and called for the perpetrators to be held accountable and prosecuted. Sheka was thereafter added to the sanctions list of the Security Council Committee concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After a two-year trial starting in 2018, both defendants were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Special Representative Patten stated that: “My mandate has pursued justice for Messrs. Sheka and Lionceau’s crimes with a coalition of national and international partners for the sexual violence they have committed for over a decade. This support has included the deployment of the Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict to work with Congolese prosecutorial authorities and civil society on this case.” Special Representative Patten added emphatically that “the verdict sends a strong signal that impunity for sexual violence in Congo will not be tolerated.” Special Representative Gamba emphasized that: “This verdict is also an important victory for those who seek justice for grave violations against children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. It is a formidable example showing that no individual, no matter how powerful, is immune from being held accountable for those violations.”
Both Special Representatives praised the victims who bravely came forward to provide testimonies and for the zealous advocacy of Congolese prosecutors and victims’ attorneys who pursued the case with diligence. They highlighted the broad coalition of national and international actors who worked together to see that justice was done in this case as a model for the future. The Special Representatives also welcomed the technical support provided by the United Nations, in particular MONUSCO, to the military justice authorities that contributed to this outcome. Special Representative Patten stated: “North Kivu is still subject to insecurity and sexual violence, but this verdict is a clear message to perpetrators that you will be brought to justice no matter how long it takes.” Special Representative Gamba added: “Through this verdict, once again parties to conflict are reminded that violations against children cannot be overlooked, and that sooner or later justice will prevail.” The Special Representatives finally called upon the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide reparations and support to victims of Sheka’s crimes who still require it long after the events.