Skip to main content

Congo’s Prison Rape Trial a Missed Opportunity

Justice Falls Short for Survivors; No Accountability for State Officials

This week a court in Lubumbashi in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo found 10 male inmates guilty of rape, arson, and attempted escape during riots at Kasapa central prison in September 2020. All the defendants, most of whom were already serving long sentences, received 15 years additional imprisonment and were each ordered to pay US$5,000 to the 20 female survivors taking part in the trial.

Survivors of the September 2020 mass rape at Kasapa central prison, veiled to protect their identity from the public, attend trial proceedings at Kasapa central prison, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, November 11, 2021. © 2021 Private

Sixteen months after the three days of rampage and mass rape at Kasapa prison, the trial left some survivors with a sense of disappointment and unfinished business. “These detainees are already serving prison sentences and have no money. So this means abandoning us,” a survivor told Human Rights Watch. “The state should be facing its responsibility.”

Of the 56 female detainees in the prison at the time of the riot, 37 women and a teenage girl testified to being raped. But by only holding 10 prisoners and no state officials to account, the prosecution failed to fully provide justice for the horrific crimes committed.

When Human Rights Watch investigated the prison riot last year, we found that a group of inmates, who had overpowered their guard, set several buildings on fire and rapidly took over the prison. Staff, guards, and security forces fled and shut the prison gates behind them. Female detainees were left with no protection in the open prison yard during three days of chaos. The majority of the women, and possibly all, were raped.

A month before the uprising and again just hours before it started, prison officials had warned provincial civilian and military authorities about 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 provide safety to all female detainees was completely overlooked by the prosecution.

The authorities also failed to provide survivors with timely and adequate post-rape medical care and psychosocial support. Some became pregnant, most likely as a result of being raped, while a number contracted serious infections.

The prosecution never addressed the physical and psychological trauma that survivors must now live with.

The Kasapa trial was a missed opportunity to meaningfully investigate what happened and hold all those responsible, be they perpetrators or state officials, to account. The survivors are entitled to better justice and better care.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.