The start of a recent high profile trial in Goma, eastern DRC, has stirred up the press, the judiciary and public opinion. At the centre of the case is the trafficking of 23 children, allegedly involving a well-known pastor in the town, writes Frédéric Feruzi.
The hype around this trial is thanks to the involvement of the pastor and the collective pleas for justice expressed increasingly often by the inhabitants of Goma and the surrounding region, who report new cases of kidnapping – a form of human trafficking – every day. Kidnappers are seldom arrested.
Despite President Félix Tshisekedi creating the Agency for the Prevention and Fight against Human Trafficking (APLTP) in 2019 as a way to tackle the scourge in the DRC, the issue of human trafficking remains almost unresolved in the country. In Goma, the trial that the military court has started offers some hope of justice and will perhaps deter the perpetrators of human trafficking, which has been particularly prevalent in the eastern provinces of the DRC for almost 30 years.
This trial follows a complaint filed by the parents of 23 missing children, some of whom are members of the church headed by Pastor Jean Omari. The parents allege that the pastor arranged for their children to travel to Europe to be cared for by a benefactor, but now, many months later, they still have no news of their children.
The Coalition of Anti-Slavery Civil Society Organisations (COSCAE), a network of eleven Congolese civil society organizations, is closely following the trial. “I have confidence in the justice system and I hope that the trial will take place without influence from any quarter. If the pastor is innocent, let him be released, and if he is guilty, he will have to answer for his crimes,” commented Janvier Murahiri, coordinator of COSCAE. For this civil society activist, this trial needs to awaken the community to the high levels of human trafficking in the DRC.
Ten other cases involving trafficked victims in another town in North Kivu are also being closely followed by COSCAE. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg, said Murahiri, warning that “human trafficking is a very profitable business”.
There are numerous victims of human trafficking in the region, but according to COSCAE children and young girls are particularly at the forefront. In eastern DRC, most trafficking happens in North- and South Kivu, but cases have also been reported elsewhere in the country.
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