UNITED NATIONS, March 11 (UPI) -- The guilty verdict for members of the Congolese army charged with rape sends a strong message to those accused of sexual violence, a U.N. official said.
A military court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found 11 members of the Congolese military guilty of rape, pillaging and other acts of violence. Their case stems from the rape of 24 women in 2009.
Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, said in a statement the verdict serves as a warning to those accused of sexual assault as a weapon of war.
"This sends a strong signal to all perpetrators of acts of sexual violence that no military commander is beyond the law, including members of a national army," she said.
Three of the officers convicted were sentenced to 15-year prison terms, though the other eight remain at large. Those on the run were tried in absentia and sentenced to life in prison.
Wallstrom took special note that most of the rape victims testified in court.
The U.N. Stabilization Mission in the DRC said it was stepping up its presence in the area. At least 8,000 rapes were reported by humanitarian agencies in the DRC in 2010.