To ease crowding in the Tshikapa prisons and strengthen the rule of law, MONUSCO provided technical and financial support to the military court of the former Kasai-Occidental province for the purpose of organizing mobile court hearings in Tshikapa from July 10 to 18. At the end of the hearings, the Court handed down ten judgments, including one death sentence against three soldiers convicted of murder.
It should be recalled that although death penalty sentence is still in force in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in actual fact, those convicted are not executed. Death sentences were systematically commuted to life imprisonment after the DRC signed the United Nations moratorium on executions in 2003.
A total of 13 cases involving 14 detained defendants and several others on the run were presented to the Military Court, which moved there to try their cases. Ten judgments were issued after 8 days of hearing. Three cases were partially heard and postponed for an indefinite period.
Those are the cases of the people sentenced in the first degree by the Tshikapa military court who have been appealing against their ruling at the first instance for more than a year. In addition to the death sentences handed down against three soldiers convicted of murder, two other FARDC soldiers also convicted of murder received a sentence of life imprisonment and 20 years in prison respectively. Convicted of child rape, another soldier was sentenced to 8 years in prison. Two civilians tried for participating in an insurrectionary movement were acquitted.
Local authorities have expressed the hope that more similar hearings will be organized in order to strengthen the rule of law and to ease congestion in prisons. The Kasai Lawyers' Bar, more particularly, welcomed the holding of the mobile hearings by the Military Court of the former Kasai-Occidental in Tshikapa.
For Mr. Isaac Thambwe, the president of the bar, there should be more such initiatives in the future to allow litigants to quickly know their fate. "We appreciate the holding of the mobile court hearings in Tshikapa, especially since as you know, we do not have either a Military Court or a Military Prosecutor's Office at the moment in the current configuration. We depend on Kananga. The presence of a Military Court in Tshikapa has helped decongest the prison. The Bar is satisfied because the lawyers were able to defend their clients in court. The court was indeed expected here! We hope these won't be the last mobile court hearings to be held here. We would like to see more mobile court hearings be regularly organized here for many reasons : Firstly, lawyers will be allowed to defend their clients ; Secondly, the prison will be decongested ; And lastly, justice will be done to the litigants." he said.
Tshikapa prison is home to 305 inmates though its real accommodating capacity is for 150 inmates.
The mobile hearings benefited from the expertise of MONUSCO's Justice Support Section.