This week, a court in Lubumbashi, in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, found 10 male prisoners guilty of rape, arson and attempted escape during riots at the central prison of Kasapa in September 2020. All of the defendants, most of whom were already serving long sentences, received an additional 15 years in prison and were each ordered to pay US$5,000 to the 20 survivors participating in the trial.
Sixteen months after three days of ransacking and gang rapes at Kasapa prison, the trial has left some survivors with a sense of disappointment and unfinished business. “These detainees are already serving prison sentences and have no money. So that means giving up on us,” one survivor told Human Rights Watch. “The state must face up to its responsibility.”
Of the 56 women detained in the prison at the time of the riot, 37 women and a teenage girl testified to having been raped. But by holding only 10 prisoners and no state officials to account, the prosecution has failed to fully deliver justice for the horrific crimes committed.
When Human Rights Watch investigated the prison riot last year, we found that a group of inmates, who overpowered their guard, burned down several buildings and quickly took control of the prison. Staff, guards and security forces fled and closed the prison doors behind them. The detainees were left unprotected in the open courtyard of the prison for three days of chaos. The majority, if not all, of the women have been raped.
A month before the uprising and again just hours before it started, prison officials had warned provincial civilian and military authorities of growing insecurity in the prison emanating from a number of “very dangerous inmates “. These warnings were repeatedly ignored. Yet the state’s failure to protect and ensure the safety of all female prisoners has been completely ignored by the prosecution.
Authorities also failed to provide victims with adequate and timely medical care and psychosocial support after a rape. Some have become pregnant, most likely as a result of rape, while a number have contracted serious infections.
The prosecution never addressed the physical and psychological trauma that survivors now have to live with.
Kasapa’s trial was a missed opportunity to meaningfully investigate what happened and hold all those responsible to account, whether perpetrators or state agents. Survivors have a right to better justice and better care.