DRC: Nearly 50 soldiers sentenced to death in one week

DRC: Nearly 50 soldiers sentenced to death in one week

The Congolese military justice system sentenced to death on Monday 22 soldiers accused of “fleeing before the enemy” during the fighting against the M23 rebels, bringing to nearly 50 the number of death sentences handed down in less than a week for the same reasons, we learned from the defense.

In one case, the court, sitting in Lubero (North Kivu, east), handed down 16 death sentences, three 10-year prison sentences and three acquittals, while the prosecution had requested the death penalty on Saturday against the 22 accused. In another case examined and judged in the process, six soldiers were sentenced to death and one acquitted, lawyer Jules Muvweko told AFP.

The latter announced his intention to appeal.

Last Wednesday, the same court, which was then sitting in the village of Alimbongo, about 70 km from Lubero, sentenced a group of 25 soldiers to death. On Friday in Lubero, two death sentences were handed down.

All these soldiers were prosecuted for “cowardice”, “fleeing before the enemy”, “wasting war munitions”, “violation of orders”, murder, theft, looting and even extortion.

These trials are taking place as the M23 rebellion seized new localities at the end of June on the northern front of the conflict that has been ongoing for two and a half years in North Kivu.

Since the end of 2021, this rebellion has conquered large swathes of territory in the province, almost completely surrounding its capital, Goma.

These hearings are “deterrent and educational” in nature, Captain Mélissa Kahambu Muhasa, representing the public prosecutor, told AFP on Friday. They aim to prevent soldiers from abandoning their posts on the front lines, a “scourge” according to her.

“Abandoned” soldiers

The next day, the defense argued mitigating circumstances. “We leave soldiers on the front line for five days without food, what are they going to do?”asked Mr. Muvweko. “The government must take care of the soldiers at the front to avoid all this”he had said.

“It was because of hunger that there was looting”the lawyer insisted.

No capital execution has taken place in the DRC for more than twenty years.

But the rout of the Congolese army against the M23 has aroused suspicions among the authorities in Kinshasa of infiltration by security forces.

Many military personnel, including senior officers, as well as political and business figures, have been arrested and accused of “complicity with the enemy.”

In March, Kinshasa decided to lift a moratorium on the execution of the death penalty that had been in force since 2003. According to the government, this measure, which has been widely criticized by human rights organizations, primarily targets soldiers accused of treason.

At the beginning of May, the first death sentences were handed down in Goma for “cowardice” and “fleeing before the enemy” against eight soldiers, including five officers.