Eighteen people, including a provincial lawmaker, have gone on trial in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the rapes of dozens of children, Reuters reported Friday.
Their trial before a military court opened on Thursday in Kavumu simultaneously as the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) gave the DRC a year to report on actions it has taken to hold free and fair elections and clean up its rights record.
Between 2013 and 2016 at least 46 children, some as young as 18 months, were raped near the village of Kavumu.
Frederic Batumike, a deputy from South Kivu province, and members of a militia he is alleged to have led were arrested by authorities last June.
A spiritual adviser used by Batumike’s militia advised fighters that raping very young children would confer supernatural protection.
And despite authorities taking some action, with the successful prosecution of high-level militia and army commanders in recent years, rights groups say sexual violence is still a major problem and both government forces and militia groups use rape as a weapon of war.
Meanwhile, 18 independent experts from the UNHRC who monitor international human rights compliance said the DRC should explain by November 10, 2018 how it would hold free and fair elections.
Incumbent President Joseph Kabila has been clinging to power despite his mandate ending in December 2016.
On Sunday the DRC electoral commission said new elections would be held on 23 December 2018, but the opposition warned that was too late and broke an agreement to go to the polls this year.
New elections have been repeatedly delayed with the country’s electoral commission saying registering millions of voters across the DRC was problematic because of the current violence.
However, political opponents charge this is an excuse by Kabila and his supporters to stay in office.
Regional wars in the eastern DRC between 1996 and 2003 have left millions dead, mostly from hunger and disease.
The DRC's vast mineral wealth and rich natural resources are being exploited by both unscrupulous international companies and dozens of armed groups which also victimise local populations.