A former militia leader in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been sentenced to life in prison for war crimes and mass rape, a decision hailed by the United Nations as a blow to the “impunity” provided to armed groups in the country.
Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka was convicted of “murder, rape, sexual slavery and enlisting children under 15 years old”, a military court ruled on Monday at the end of a trial that lasted two years.
The UN’s DRC representative, Leila Zerrougui, said the ruling showed that “impunity is not inevitable”.
Sheka founded the Nduma Defence of Congo (NDC) militia, active in DRC’s restive North Kivu province, where he claimed to be fighting the Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
A warrant for his arrest was issued in January 2011 after a series of attacks in which the NDC and two other groups allegedly raped nearly 400 people in 13 villages between July 30 and August 2, 2010.
The NDC was also accused of having recruited at least 154 children into its ranks.
The NDC still exists under the name NDC-Renovated, or NDC/R.
Last July, a faction of the NDC/R overthrew its leader, Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, accusing him of “serious violations”.
The new leaders of the movement also affirmed their willingness to “surrender their weapons”.
About 1,300 people were killed in the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, according to a UN estimate in June.
“While certainly the conviction of Sheka may bring an element of justice for the victims and the right groups that have been calling for that, it is certainly not the end of the cycle of conflict in the eastern DRC,” Al Jazeera’s Webb said.