A military court handed a life sentence on Monday to militia commander Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka for war crimes including murder, sexual slavery and child soldier recruitment in Democratic Republic of Congo.
The two-year trial involving more than 300 victims is a landmark for Congolese justice, rights groups and the United Nations said.
Authorities first issued a warrant for Sheka’s arrest in January 2011 but he remained at large until 2017, when he surrendered to U.N. peacekeepers.
Sheka and Séraphin Zitonda, a commander from another militia, received life sentences at the trial in the city of Goma for crimes committed in Congo’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 recognized, and impunity is not inevitable,” said Leila Zerrougui, head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo.
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 Sheka’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 spokesman said.