The trial of 41 soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo began in Goma on Wednesday, with the troops accused of committing mass rape, murder and other war crimes as they fled their positions when M23 rebels took the city in November 2012.
A military court in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday began trying 41 soldiers for rape and other war crimes in the volatile east of the country, officials said.
The charges also include murder and looting, Julien Paluku, governor of North Kivu province, told AFP, adding that judges had arrived from the capital Kinshasa to reinforce those in Goma, the eastern regional hub where the trial is taking place.
A high-ranking police officer said the tribunal's verdict will be final. "There's no appeal. They are definitively convicted, or if they are to be freed, they are freed."
The regular soldiers are accused of committing the atrocities as they fled their positions in and around Minova, in neighbouring South Kivu province, in the face of the M23 onslaught.
A United Nations investigation said "135 cases of sexual violence, as well as other serious human rights violations including murders and massive looting (were) perpetrated by the soldiers" between November 20 and 30 in and around the city of Minova.
The joint investigation by UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO and the UN human rights agency also identified 59 cases of sexual violence committed by M23 fighters in the Goma area during the same period.
In October this year, MONUSCO lamented that: "Almost a year after these incidents, none of the presumed perpetrators of these human rights violations has been brought to justice... in spite of the Congolese authorities' commitment to prosecute the perpetrators."
The DR Congo government signed an accord with the UN in April to step up the fight against sexual abuse by armed groups and soldiers, which remains rampant mainly in the east, where a plethora of armed groups are still active.
The trial opens barely three weeks after the UN-backed Congolese army defeated the M23.