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US, others, praise Congo rape conviction

The conviction of a Congolese army colonel, and eight others, for the mass rape of at least 60 women in eastern Congo on New Year’s Day has been welcomed by Washington.

Speaking to reporters State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the conviction of Lieutenant Colonel Kibibi Mutware was “a significant milestone” in the fight to end a culture of rape and sexual violence that has taken hold in eastern Congo during years of war and unrest.

"We applaud the [Congolese] government for taking swift and appropriate legal action to arrest and try in a local court the alleged perpetrators, including Lieutenant Colonel Kibibi Mutware and his subordinates," said Crowley.

The legal case, tried at an outdoor mobile court in the town of Bakara in South Kivu close to the village of Fizi where the attack occurred was funded by George Soros’ New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative.

The group’s Kelly Askin welcomed the convictions as “empowering” and “an unprecedented victory for justice and the rule of law in a country where impunity is the norm and accountability the rare exception”.

Human rights activists also welcomed Mutware’s guilty verdict and 20-year sentence.

“This conviction is a step in the right direction,” said Claire Morclette, Amnesty International’s Congo campaigner. “For decades crimes like this have gone unpunished in [Congo], their perpetrators never bought to justice.”