Eleven militia fighters from the Democratic Republic of Congo have been jailed for life on Wednesday (13 December) for raping about 40 children during ceremonies meant to give the men supernatural powers.
The fighters from Djeshi ya Yesu – the Army of Jesus – militia raped girls aged between eight months and 12 years near the village of Kavumu, local human rights groups said.
According to reports, many of the assaults that took place between 2013 and 2016 happened at night as the fighters allegedly believed that the blood of virgins would grant them supernatural protection.
The men were also convicted of murder, membership in a rebel movement and illegal weapons possession,
Among the arrested fighters was a local lawmaker Frederic Batumike, who was said to be their alleged leader, Citi FM Online reported.
According to the prosecution, Batumike had employed a spiritual adviser who told the fighters that raping very young children would give them "mystical protection against their enemies".
A total of 18 members had been tried among which two were sentenced to just one year in jail, while five were acquitted.
Human rights campaigners hailed the court's verdict saying that it was a landmark decision in a country where it was common to be raped by armed groups and they would often go unpunished, Reuters reported.
"It's a strong signal to anyone who would contemplate this kind of offence," lawyer for the victims Charles Cubaka Cicura told Reuters news agency.
Karen Naimer from the Physicians for Human Rights, one of the groups supporting the victims said, "This trial demonstrated that justice can be served in the Congo ... even when the accused wield significant power and are highly organised."
The mobile court, which was set up in Kavumu village, allocated $5,000 (£3,722) in compensation to each rape victim and $15,000 (£11,167) to the families of the men who were murdered by the militia, the groups said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was even labelled as "the rape capital of the world" by Margot Wallstrom, the former UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict.