Bukavu, DR Congo | AFP | The trial of 18 suspected militiamen over the kidnapping and rape of some 40 girls in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been suspended after a defendant demanded the recusal of two judges, a judicial source said Friday.
The demand was made by a former provincial lawmaker, Frederic Batumike, against two judges at the military court in Bukavu where all the accused are on trial. It must now be reviewed by the High Court in Kinshasa.
The suspects are accused of being members of the Djeshi ya Yesu militia, or “The Army of Jesus” in Swahili, which was led by Batumike.
He was arrested in June last year along with 74 others and accused of “recruiting a witch doctor who advised the militiamen to rape very young girls and thereby gain supernatural protection,” said Charles Cubaka Cicura, a lawyer representing the victims.
Around 40 girls aged from eight months to 12 years were kidnapped and raped between May 2013 and 2016, and at least two of them died, Cicura said.
Denis Mukwege, an expert in DR Congo on treating victims of gang rape, had denounced the wave of child kidnappings and rape during that period in the village of Kavumu, near Bukavu, in the restive east of the country.
“How can someone kidnap a child at night and bring her in the bush to rape her?” Mukwege had told AFP in an interview in 2015.
“The condition of the babies who arrive to us like that at the hospital is dramatic.”
Armed groups vying for control of the region’s vast mineral wealth often use mass rape to terrorise local residents.
The UN special representative on sexual violence committed in conflicts, Pramila Patten, has praised the Congolese authorities for conducting the trial, which she called “a crucial step in seeing that responsibility is taken for the rape of young children at Kavumu.”