(WOMENSENEWS)— More than a decade after the Rome Statute recognized rape as both a war crime and crime against humanity, the International Criminal Court delivered its first rape convictions against Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former vice president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC.
On March 21, Bemba was convicted of having "failed to prevent" his militia from raping 27 women and two men in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003. The trial was the first time the ICC had ever handled a case that included more allegations of sexual violence than alleged killings.
For some women in neighboring DRC—where an estimated 12 percent of women have been raped—the ICC’s guilty verdict has spurred hope that international justice will soon cross the border.
While the ICC has lodged investigations into allegations of rape and sexual slavery occurring in the DRC, it has yet to hand down a conviction.
"Victims of sexual violence in the DRC hope that one day all the leaders of armed groups that have devastated communities and dehumanized women since 1994 will be held accountable in an international court," Marie-Jeanne Bachu, the program manager for City of Joy, a nonprofit in the DRC that provides services to over 90 survivors of sexual violence, said in an email interview this week with Women’s eNews.
Bachu added that the ICC verdict impacts not only survivors in the Central African Republic and the DRC, but also those pursuing international justice in other conflict settings.
"This verdict is just, [and we are] expecting the rebel leaders who have bloodied the DRC to one day face trial," she said.
Bosco Ntaganda, a former military commander for the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, is currently on trial at the ICC for a list of crimes including rape and sexual slavery, allegedly committed in the DRC’s Ituri region.
Congolese activist Julienne Lusenge, who leads the Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development, told Women’s eNews in November 2015 that many rape convictions in the DRC are happening through locally operated "mobile courts" that rove the countryside—not the ICC.
"We [the DRC] were like a guinea pig," she said. "The court needs to change now."
Rape victims in the DRC have called the ICC as "an asylum" for war criminals, according to Lusenge who said that while the accused have enjoyed the seeming comforts of prison life in The Hague, rape victims have been left to rebuild their lives with little financial support in the DRC.
The Congolese government has yet to pay $155,000 worth of court-ordered reparations to women who were raped in Songo Mboyo in 2003. And their attempts at doing so have been severely mismanaged.
Following the ICC’s Bemba verdict, UN Women urged the court to issue a "comprehensive reparations decision" for the survivors of sexual violence in the Central African Republic. These reparations plans—and how they will be carried out—have yet to be released.