A first group of soldiers facing sex abuse allegations in a scandal involving UN and French forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) has faced charges at a trial in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Three Congolese men from the UN’s MINUSCA peacekeeping mission appeared before the court in the Ndolo military prison north of the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, on Monday.
Sergeant Major Kibeka Mulamba Djuma and Sergeant Jackson Kikola are being “prosecuted for raping a (young girl) of 17 and for not following orders,” public prosecutor Lieutenant Mposhi Ngoy said, reading the charges.
Sergeant Major Nsasi Ndazu also faces charges of attempted rape and disobeying orders.
The three soldiers pleaded not guilty.
Some 18 other soldiers from the DR Congo are accused of rape or attempted rape of civilians in the CAR also attended the court over the scandal, which came to public attention after 100 victims came forward with appalling accounts of sexual abuse by UN and French troops.
Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, the Congolese justice minister, told AFP, “We want absolute transparency in this trial,” adding that “a few individuals cannot discredit our army.”
The whole process could take months to complete as three hearings are set to take place weekly.
Venance Kalenga, who was present at the session as an observer for Congolese human rights charity ACAJ, described the absence of victims as “a major obstacle in the demonstration of truth.”
But Ida Sawyer, an advocate for Human Rights Watch in the DR Congo, hailed the trial as “a first, and good, step to end impunity.” She also urged all nations involved to ensure “real justice.”
The CAR plunged into crisis in December 2013, when anti-balaka militia began coordinated attacks against the Seleka group, which had toppled the government in March that year.
France effectively invaded the CAR, a former French colony, after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution giving the African Union and France the go-ahead to send troops to the country.
The UN’s MINUSCA peacekeeping mission was deployed to the CAR in September 2014 to take over from African Union forces.
MINUSCA is short for the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic.