The United Nations has said that seven soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo were sentenced to life imprisonment for gang rape// on Wednesday, declared for the first time in Kinshasa as a "crime against humanity".
The victims of the rape include 119 women, at least, most of them being minors, in the province of Equateur in the north of the country in 2003. The soldiers were also charged with plotting against the military.
The DRC state, judged to have been "jointly responsible", was ordered to pay $10 000 to the family of a rape victim who died following the attack, and $5 000 to each of the other victims as well as damages and interest of between $200 and $500 to the families whose houses were robbed.
The 12 accused men were part of the 9th battalion of the Congolese armed forces based on Songo Mboyo, 500km north-east of Mbandanka, the capital of Equateur province.
The battalion was mainly made up of former rebels from the Congolese Liberation Movement led by DRC's vice-president, Jean-Pierre Bemba.
These rapes were commited on the night of December 21, 2003, during a rebellion of the troops, who had not been paid for months and had received no extra money or food for Christmas.
The victims, two of whom became pregnant and one of whom contracted HIV as a result of the attack, were taken to hospital in Mbandaka.
However five other soldiers charged with indiscipline and pillaging were acquitted due to a lack of evidence.
According to Luc Henkinbrant of the human rights division of the UN's mission in DRC this was the first time in DRC that rape was categorised as a crime against humanity.
This demonstrated that the Congolese justice system had adopted criteria in line with those laid down by the International Criminal Court.
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