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Ntabo Ntaberi Cheka is one of 65 candidates running for the Congolese National Assembly in the Walikale electoral district in the North Kivu province of eastern Congo. He is running as an independent and his name appears in the 18th slot of the official candidate list. This should be unremarkable in an election that features 18,000 candidates running for the 500 seats in the National Assembly. But Ntabo Ntaberi Cheka’s story is far from unremarkable. Cheka is Mai Mai militia leader currently under Congolese indictment for mass rape.
Cheka commands a Mai Mai militia, a generic term referring to localized militia groups in the eastern Congo. Between July 30, 2010 and August 2, 2010 Cheka’s forces along with two other armed groups planned, organized, and executed the mass rape at least 387 civilians in 13 villages in the Walikale area. This coordinated attack on the civilian population was one of the single largest incidents of mass rape and looting in recent history.
The attacks committed by Cheka’s forces are incredibly well documented by the United Nations and internal Congolese judicial investigations. Public outcry resulted in the issue of a Congolese arrest warrant in January 2011, which has yet to be executed. Since his indictment there has only been one failed attempt to apprehend Cheka, despite his active Parliamentary campaign. Human rights advocates continue to call for Cheka’s immediate arrest.
Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch noted:
The failure to arrest someone who is out publicly campaigning for votes sends a message that even the most egregious crimes will go unpunished…Sheka’s campaigning for office despite a warrant for his arrest demonstrates the Congolese government’s failure to act against those most responsible for sexual violence and other mass atrocities. Candidates in the upcoming elections should make firm commitments to end Congo’s culture of impunity.
Sadly, the story of Cheka’s gross impunity is not unique or uncommon in the eastern Congo. Former CNDP commander and current member of the integrated national Congolese army Bosco Ntaganda is currently under indictment from the ICC for war crimes—and living comfortably and ostentatiously in Goma. Bosco, known as The Terminator, continues to be implicated in murders, illegal exploitation of resources, and terrorizing civilians in Goma and the surrounding areas.
This widespread culture of impunity is corrosive to the Congolese people’s pursuit of justice and, in the case of Cheka, stands to tarnish Congo’s already difficult 2012 election cycle. Congolese authorities should act quickly and decisively to arrest Cheka and proceed with his prosecution. The Congolese people deserve better from their Parliamentary candidates, and the victims of the Walikale attacks deserve justice.
Photo: Walikale town (Enough/Laura Heaton)