- The International Human rights body has said the conviction of the prominent Mai Mai commander Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga and 20 others was an important step for justice to his victims.
Mr Mutanga who was the commander of the Mai Mai militia responsible for brutal crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s central Katanga between 2003 and 2006 and his associates were convicted for crimes against humanity among others by a military court on 5 March.
The senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch Anneke Van Woudenberg said the conviction is a victory for the victims of Mr Mutanga and his Mai Mai militia, who inflicted horrific atrocities on thousands of people.
"This trial has shown the important role that Congolese courts play in giving victims a voice and in making clear that attacks on civilians will have serious consequences," the HRW official said.
The trial by the military court which lasted for 19 months found Mr Mutanga guilty of crimes against humanity, insurgency and terrorism. Another six defendants, including Mr Mutanga's wife, Ilunga Monga Nkuma, were also found guilty of crimes against humanity, in addition to other crimes.
Gédéon was detained on 16 May 2006, and the trial against him began on 10 July, 2007.
"This trial has shown the important role that Congolese courts play in giving victims a voice and in making clear that attacks on civilians will have serious consequences," he said.
Fourteen defendants were convicted of insurgency, and three of them were also convicted of terrorism. Four defendants were acquitted because of insufficient evidence, while another was acquitted because he was a minor at the time the crimes were committed and was deemed not criminally liable.
In its landmark ruling, the military court also found the government liable for failing to disarm the Mai Mai militias and awarded damages to the victims.
Mr Mutanga and six other defendants were sentenced to death. However HRW has expressed concern about the sentence saying it is cruel and inhumane.
The judges also awarded damages to dozens of victims equivalent of US$300,000 while others were granted between US$80,000 and US$150,000.
"Awarding damages to victims sends a strong message that the government is not above the law. We urge the government to respect the ruling and to comply as a matter of priority," said Van Woudenberg.
The Mai Mai militia was a local defense force supported by the Congolese government during the war with Rwanda and Uganda, which began in 1998. After the war ended in 2003, the national government sought to integrate the Mai Mai into the national army, but failed.
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