Rape is so commonly used as a weapon in war-ravaged eastern Congo that the horrendous crime often goes completely unreported and unpunished.
Now a trailblazing "mobile gender court" is bringing justice to areas of the country so remote that they lack access to conventional courts.
On Thursday, the court began prosecuting 11 Congolese soldiers—including a senior military commander—who allegedly raped 50 women they were supposed to be protecting.
Late last month, in response to the New Year's day attack, Lt. Col. Mutware Kibibi was arrested by his own soldiers. The trial is the Congo's most high-profile case to date against a defendant accused of mass rape.
The Guardian reports that the mobile court is seen as a test of the government's seriousness in confronting the epidemic of sexual violence. It is estimated that a woman is raped every eight minutes in the embattled nation. In the Kivu region of Congo, aid workers believe that 1 in 3 women has been raped.
Women from the town where Kibibi's rapes allegedly occurred walked more than 20 miles to attend the opening session of the court.
The mobile court is a project of the American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative, which uses American attorneys and legal scholars to implement judicial reform in more than 40 nations. According to the Bar Association's country director for the DRC, it has helped secure at least 94 rape convictions since 2009.
Dubbed "Africa's World War," the fighting in resource-rich Congo has led to destruction on an unimaginable scale, as various factions and warlords compete with the government over control of lucrative natural resources.