Congolese women walk past a sign opposing sexual violence on Dec.. 4, 2008 in Nyamilima, in Nord-Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Pascal Guyot—AFP/Getty Images
By Joseph Hincks
December 14, 2017

A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo has handed life sentences to 11 militiamen who raped about 40 children aged between 18-months and 12-years old.

Human rights groups hailed Wednesday’s verdict as a strike against the culture of impunity around sexual violence in D.R. Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war, Reuters reports.

“It’s a strong signal to anyone who would contemplate this kind of offense,” Charles Cubaka Cicura, a lawyer for the victims, told the news agency.

Rights groups say that between 2013 and 2016, fighters from a militia group called Djeshi ya Yesu, or the Army of Jesus, raped at least 37 girls near Kavumu village in D.R. Congo’s eastern South Kivu province. A spiritual adviser retained by the group’s leader, provincial lawmaker Frederic Batumike, reportedly told the fighters raping infants would give them supernatural protection.

Read more: Platon: Portraits of Sexual Assault Survivors in Congo

According to the BBC, the 11 men sentenced to life were also convicted of murder, membership of a rebel movement, and possessing illegal weapons. A further two were given sentences of one year, and five were acquitted.

Rights groups told Reuters the court also awarded each rape victim $5,000 in compensation, and $15,000 to the families of men murdered by the fighters.

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