Saturday, March 8, 2014

DR Congo: ICC - " When your conscience whispered, the vein lines stiffened. You were walking with the dead. "

The United Nations News Centre reports:

UN welcomes International Criminal Court conviction of former DR Congo militia leader

Germain Katanga sits in the courtroom of the ICC in The Hague during closing statements on 15 May 2012. Photo: ICC-CPI/REUTERS/Michael Kooren(NETHERLANDS)

7 March 2014 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his top envoy for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today welcomed the verdict issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against a former Congolese militia leader for war crimes in relation to a 2003 attack in the country’s east.

Hundreds of people were killed and many women were forced into sexual slavery as a result of the attack on Bogoro village in Ituri district.

This was the attack that in many ways launched the career of Bosco Ntaganda. Ntaganda currently awaiting trial himself at the Hague was to eventually lead the UPC.

" On 24 February 2003, hundreds of FNI and FRPI fighters including children under the age of fifteen attacked Bogoro with machetes, spears, arrows, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, rocket launchers and semi-automatic weapons According to the ICC, they circled the village and "converged towards the centre on a killing spree", killing at least 200 civilians, imprisoning survivors in a room filled with corpses, and sexually enslaving women and girls. Some residents of the village were killed by setting their houses on fire, others were hacked to death with machetes. The UN reported that 173 of the victims were under the age of 18."

UPC leader Thomas Lubanga claimed that 400 people were killed and 500 were missing after the attack. "The civilian population was very, very coldly massacred," he said.

The attack succeeded in pushing UPC forces out of Bogoro within a few hours and, ten days later, the Lendu and Ngiti drove the UPC from Bunia."

Germain Katanga, a senior commander from the group known as the Force de RĂ©sistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI), was convicted on four counts of war crimes and one count of crimes against humanity, namely murder, attacking a civilian population, destruction of property and pillaging.

Sometimes, not often but sometimes, justice has an irony, from African Arguments:

" Some four months later, on 10 January 2005, the Congolese army appointed a number of Iturian ex-combatants to serve as generals. Former rivals Bosco Ntaganda and Germain Katanga were among those who received this ‘promotion’, to the disgust of late Human Rights Watch researcher and historian Alison Des Forces, who said “the government needs to take these warlords to court."

“This is an important verdict for the victims of these horrific crimes, for international justice, and for the fight against impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

“The Secretary-General reaffirms the strong commitment of the United Nations to support the independent work of the Court as the centrepiece of the international criminal justice system,” it added.

It is interesting how many African Leaders ( Kagame, Mugabe, Kenyatta.. et all ) despise the court, that I think says more about those leaders than it does about the ICC.

" To avoid prosecution, ruthless national leaders too often threaten, corrupt, or compromise judges and prosecutors at home, but those in The Hague should be beyond the reach of such obstructionism. The ICC is meant as a court of last resort for victims and survivors who cannot find justice in their own country and as a deterrent to leaders who have little to fear from domestic prosecution. The court has now been accepted by 122 states."

The Court said in a statement that, in light of the witness testimonies and the evidence presented before the Chamber, “it had been established beyond reasonable doubt that Germain Katanga had made a significant contribution to the commission of the crimes by the Ngiti militia, which was acting with a common purpose, by assisting its members to plan the operation against Bogoro.”

At the same time, the ICC’s Trial Chamber acquitted Mr. Katanga of the other charges that he was facing. In this regard, the Chamber found that there was evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the crimes of rape and sexual slavery were committed, and that there were children within the Ngiti militia and among the combatants who were in Bogoro on the day of the attack.

“However, the Chamber concluded that the evidence presented in support of the accused’s guilt did not satisfy it beyond reasonable doubt of the accused’s responsibility for these crimes.”

His sentence will still be significant.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for DRC, Martin Kobler, said the conviction “was yet another warning to armed groups to immediately cease attacks against civilians and lay down their arms.”

In a statement from the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO), which he heads, Mr. Kobler also said that combating impunity is fundamental to stabilizing the country and establishing a durable peace.

I agree completely, Kobler has re energised MONUSCO and the remaining armed groups in the DR Congo need to get the message that the world will not tolerate crimes against humanity we will come for them no matter how long it takes and they will face justice. It is also something that leaders such as Kagame who supported M23 might want to consider.

Decisions on Mr. Katanga’s sentencing and victim reparations will be rendered later. The Prosecutor and the Defence may appeal the judgment within 30 days.

Located in The Hague, in the Netherlands, the ICC is an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern – namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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