Goma —  A military court handed a life sentence on Monday to militia commander Ntabo Ntaberi for war crimes including murder, sexual slavery and child soldier recruitment in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The two-year trial involving more than 300 victims is a great achievement  for Congolese justice, rights groups and the UN said.

Authorities first issued a warrant for Ntaberi's arrest in January 2011 but he remained at large until 2017, when he surrendered to UN peacekeepers.

 Ntaberi and Séraphin Zitonda, a commander from another militia, received life sentences at the trial in the city of Goma for crimes committed in the DRC's eastern province of North Kivu between 2010 and 2014.

“This verdict is a source of immense hope for the many victims of the conflicts in the DRC: their suffering has been heard and recognised, and impunity is not inevitable,” said Leila Zerrougui, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

The men were found guilty of orchestrating raids on villages in Walikale territory in mid-2010 where 380 men, women and children were raped, and 287 killed.

“We salute the courage of the victims, who have continued to testify despite the threats,” said Yuma Fatuma Kahindo, a lawyer representing the group of victims.

Daniele Perissi, a representative of Trial International, a charity that fights impunity for international crimes, said the authorities had proved they are capable of taking on “an incredibly complex case” from a legal and security point of view.

A successor to Ntaberi’s militia, the NDC-Renove, was one of the largest armed groups in the east of the country in recent years and seen as having close ties with the national army until it split and turned on itself in July.

The army will continue military actions to bring perpetrators of crime to military justice, an army spokesperson said.


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