Judgement has been handed down in the trial of 18 men charged with raping children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 11 receiving life sentences for the crime.
A military tribunal ruled that the men from the Djeshi ya Yesu (Army of Jesus) militia were guilty of committing crimes against humanity and should be “sentenced to life in prison for the crime against humanity by rape and murder”.
They were also convicted of murder, membership in a rebel movement and the illegal possession of weapons.
Five of the 18 accused were acquitted, while two received one-year jail sentences.
The men reportedly focused on young girls because a spiritual adviser told them that the girls’ blood would grant them special protection.
The victims, some of which were just 18 months old, were from the village of Kavumu in South Kivu in the east of the country.
The victims have been awarded $5 000 each in compensation, while the families of those the militia murdered have been $15 000 in compensation, advocacy groups reported.
The rapes occurred between 2013 and 2016.
Local campaigners called the verdict a sign that impunity for sexual violence was ending.
“It’s a strong signal to anyone who would contemplate this kind of offence,” Charles Cubaka Cicura, lawyer for the victims, told Reuters.