The pastor who ordered militia members to defile babies

Dolls symbolising the agony of sexual assault victims. South Kivu in the DRC has been wracked by sexual violence during decades of conflict between armed groups.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In June 2016, dozens of Jeshi Ya Yesu members were arrested, and among them was Pastor Frederic Batumike.
  • On November 7, 2017, Batumike and 11 of his co-accused went on trial, marking the first time a sitting Congolese lawmaker faced justice.

In the conflict-hit town of Kavumu in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was a militia called Jeshi Ya Yesu (Army of Jesus).

The heavily armed sect was assembled by Pastor Frederic Batumike, a local politician and member of South Kivu parliament, one of DRC's 26 provincial legislatures.

Batumike, a father of nine, was locally known as Ten Litres, a moniker due to his short stocky stature that resembled a plastic 10-litre jerrycan. He was a preacher with a network of churches across South Kivu, though his militia primarily resided in Kavumu.

In 2012, he recruited a witch doctor who deceived his infatuated militia that if they defiled young girls they would acquire supernatural protection and even be bulletproof.

The witch doctor then deceptively informed them to mix virgin blood with herbs and claimed that by doing so, they would be rendered invincible. Pastor Batumike began ordering the militia to storm households at night and mount defilement operations.

The militia's first victim in Kavumu was a widower called Amani Tchinegeremig, a subsistence farmer who had a three-year-old daughter.

Like most residents of South Kivu, he lived in a shack partitioned into two sections: one for him and the other for his children. One morning when he awoke, he discovered his daughter was missing.

Amani began looking for the girl. He saw a spread-eagled body in the bush, covered in blood. It was his daughter. The attackers had forced clothes in her mouth to gag her from screaming, during the defilement ordeal.

He took her to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, 276 kilometres away. They endured the six-hour drive. Though she survived, her womb was permanently destroyed and she developed severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

She became petrified of the dark and possessed a mortified phobia against socialising in public.

Initially, Kavumu residents thought that was an isolated incident, but other children soon started disappearing. Before long, there were 20 cases, the militia raiding houses at night and snatching children.

In the beginning, it was unclear if the girls were defiled as most of them were babies or toddlers who could not speak. But as villagers found more dead bodies, the chilling truth dawned on them.

For years, international journalist Christina Lamb had been furious at the world's indifference to women’s suffering.

During her coverage of South Kivu conflicts, she uncovered the disturbing violation of female babies before authoring her book, Our Bodies their Battlefield: What War does to Women. She articulates the plight of those who could not express their traumatic experiences.

The cover of Our Bodies their Battlefield: What War does to Women.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

On one Sunday, Consolata Shitwanguli, a middle-aged woman went to sleep at 9pm. Shortly after, she heard her daughter, Neema, scream.

The girl had slept in a different section of the house alongside her siblings. Consolata hastily rose and noticed her front door was open. She started searching for Neema, with the other children in tow.

They found her shivering in the fields in terror. Her hair and clothes were dusty as she pointed to her private parts and whispered to her mother that she was in excruciating pain. The Jeshi Ya Yesu gang had defiled her.

Upon noticing her daughter's genital was damaged, the mother proceeded to wake up her neighbours and they took Neema to Panzi Hospital, where gynaecologist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Denis Mukwege attended to her. She spent three months at the facility during her devastating recovery.

After Neema's incident, many Kavumu women stopped sleeping at night. They were so impoverished they could not afford padlocks.

They, therefore, kept vigil. Some of them fixed wooden brackets through which they slotted bars across their doors at night. But the following morning, many of them would still find the wooden bars on the ground and their daughters missing.

Most of their husbands had travelled to the mineral-rich Shabunda, 465 kilometres away, to mine gold. The women believed that occult and sorcery was used during the invasions, as they rarely heard the soldiers enter their houses.

In 2013, the Physicians for Human Rights extended their Programme on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones to South Kivu and began working with law enforcement, medical officials and legal practitioners in Kavumu.

Their unsettling findings stated that over 40 babies had been defiled in Kavumu alone.

In June 2016, dozens of Jeshi Ya Yesu members were arrested. Among them was Pastor Frederic Batumike.

On November 7, 2017, Batumike and 11 of his co-accused went on trial, marking the first time a sitting Congolese lawmaker faced justice.

The military court convicted Batumike and his militia members of crimes against humanity by rape and murder on December 13, 2017, in a landmark decision, and sentenced them to life in prison, securing justice for the victims, survivors and their families.

The writer is a novelist, Big Brother Africa 2 Kenyan representative and founder of Jeff’s Fitness Centre (@jeffbigbrother).