A military court sentences 8 Congolese army soldiers to death for cowardice, other crimes


GOMA, Congo (AP) — A military court in eastern Congo on Friday sentenced eight soldiers to death for cowardice and other crimes linked to fleeing the battlefield, as the government struggles to contain violence and attacks in the mineral-rich area where many armed groups operate.

In March, Congo lifted a more than 20-year moratorium on the death penalty, stating that those guilty of treason and espionage were able to get away without proper punishment. Human rights organizations criticized the decision.

Alexis Olenga, a lawyer for Paluku Olenga, one of the soldiers sentenced to death, said his client had not fled the battlefield because he was arrested in the area of his assignment.

“This is a monstrous decision, I believe we must immediately challenge it before the high military court,” he told The Associated Press.

The military court in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, acquitted three other soldiers of all charges and released them.

Moïse Hangi, a civil society activist, told the AP that “instead of repairing our security apparatus, these kinds of decisions will increasingly weaken our army and make those on the lines of defense more fearful.”

The decades-long conflict in eastern Congo has produced one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with over 100 armed groups fighting in the region, most for land and control of mines with valuable minerals. Some are fighting to try to protect their communities.

Many groups are accused of carrying out mass killings, rapes and other human rights violations. The violence has displaced about 7 million people, many beyond the reach of aid.