About a dozen soldiers have been convicted of sexual violence and murder in the volatile east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where government troops have battled to clamp down on several armed groups, a local justice official said.
The latest convictions including death penalties were handed down on Sunday.
Since December 2, a total of 19 people – 15 soldiers and four civilians – have gone on trial in Sake, about 30 kilometres northwest of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
The civilians were accused of “participating in an insurrectional movement” for supporting two local militias, said Christophe Ndibeshe, the provincial justice minister, adding that only one defendant has been acquitted.
“Among the remaining 18, four have received death sentences and the others jail terms of between seven to 15 years,” Ndibeshe told the AFP new agency.
He said two soldiers got death sentences for sexual violence – one for rape and the other for having taken part in the rape of a four-year-old girl.
The death penalty was also handed down to another soldier who killed his bodyguard and to a civilian for his involvement in the insurgency.
Ndibeshe said some of the soldiers were convicted for violent acts committed in Sake in November 2012, when the Congolese army stopped the advance on Goma by the now-defunct M23 rebel movement.
In Goma, another trial has been under way of some 30 soldiers, including officers, accused of war crimes and rape in 2012 in the Minova region of South Kivu province.
A United Nations investigation said “135 cases of sexual violence, as well as other serious human rights violations including murders and massive looting (were) perpetrated by the soldiers” between November 20 and 30 in and around the city of Minova.
The DRC government signed an accord with the UN in April to step up the fight against sexual abuse by armed groups and soldiers, which remains widespread mainly in the east, where a plethora of armed groups are still active.