Kinshasa — HUMAN rights groups are hopeful the trial of a militia leader for grave crimes is crucial for justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka is under prosecution for alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism and related charges in a trial in the eastern city of Goma.
In 2010, Sheka's militia, known as the Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC), and two other armed groups allegedly raped at least 387 women, men, girls, and boys in 13 villages along the road from Kibua to Mpofi in eastern Congo's Walikale territory in North Kivu province, according to a United Nations (UN) investigation.
The other armed groups include the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and a group made up of Congolese army deserters.
"Sheka's trial marks an important moment for justice for thousands of victims of rape and other ghastly crimes in eastern Congo," said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
"Ensuring a fair trial for those accused of the most serious crimes is a crucial step in ending the cycles of violence and impunity that have plagued the region for over two decades."
Since Congolese authorities issued an arrest warrant for Sheka in January 2011, HRW has documented further abuses by forces under his command.
They included the targeted killings of at least 70 civilians.
Many were hacked to death by machetes.
Sheka's forces have allegedly recruited young men and boys into their ranks.