Justice in Congo: Still Out of Reach

Today, judges at the International Criminal Court found Germain Katanga guilty of war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The case provides much food for thought about how justice can best be delivered for citizens in the DRC.

Katanga was found guilty of a number of charges, including as an accessory to one crime against humanity (murder) and four war crimes (murder, attacking a civilian population, destruction of property and pillaging). He was acquitted of sexual slavery, rape and the use of child soldiers, highlighting the difficulty of securing justice for victims of sexual and gender based violence in today’s conflict zones, despite recent efforts to raise awareness of such crimes.

Yet, the case at the center of today’s ruling demonstrates the difficulty of efforts to secure justice in the DRC. The case related to the second Congolese civil war, which lasted from 1998 to 2003. Katanga was found guilty due to his involvement in crimes that occurred in 2002 in Ituri province. His prosecution was not related to the most recent conflict in the Kivus. Katanga’s prosecution proved to be a long drawn out affair.After being arrested in 2005, Katanga was transferred to the ICC in 2007. His court case lasted more than seven years, culminating in the verdict today.

The role of the ICC in holding Katanga to account is to be applauded. However, it is important to highlight that amidst the widespread coverage of the result today, it remains a very small step towards justice. Katanga is one of only five figures who have been charged by the ICC for crimes in the DRC, despite a vast range of serious crimes having been committed over the last 20 years.

Not only should the ICC commit itself to carrying out further prosecutions related to serious crimes committed in the DRC, but those responsible for violence over recent years should be held to account also. Of the six indicted by the ICC, four were leaders of armed groups in Ituri in the early 2000’s, and there remains a considerable gap in justice for those responsible for more recent crimes. Therefore, governments in Congo’s neighbors and the DRC government itself should commit to apprehending those responsible for serious crimes. Not only will this serve the needs of victims, but it will also contribute to the building of a sustainable peace process in Eastern Congo.

Such prosecutions should provide a spur to the Congolese government to substantially increase efforts to secure justice domestically, both through tackling corruption embedded within the judiciary, and by exercising the political will to hold those accused of serious crimes to account, within Congo.

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4 Responses to Justice in Congo: Still Out of Reach

  1. Is there any indication why there remains a considerable time gap for recent crimes? Since the ICC has not demonstrated any motivation to prosecute recent criminals, I would suspect DRC justice advocates are lobbying major powers such as the U.S. and U.K to back their objectives.

  2. kenneycj says:

    Interesting and informative post. I agree that there are certainly gaps in the ICC’s prosecution of criminals in the DRC, but that also begs the question of why courts within the DRC itself are not being supported more to handle cases in a more timely and potentially more effective manner. Considering the amount of cases the ICC receives (not even necessarily pursues), it would seem that aid to support independent judiciaries in the DRC would provide a better mechanism for providing victims with justice, as well as provide the country with some ownership over its own peace process and transition.

  3. amandacatalina says:

    Katanga’s conviction seems like a pretty significant symbolic gesture that could potentially have more impacts on the future nature of intra-state armed conflict. It’s obviously still to soon to tell, but I wonder if this conviction will encourage more adherence to international humanitarian laws. In response to one of the other comments, I think part of the reason of sending the case to the ICC and not national courts is the significance of an ICC conviction. It seems to grant the case a greater audience and more meaning, in terms of affecting future actions. I don’t know how sustainable this process is though, as it takes so long for the court to produce a decision.

  4. mlevens says:

    I agree about the necessity of attention towards independent and well functioning judiciaries. From my understanding, this is one of the main goals in the ICC framework as well. As cases are only referred to the ICC once they are thought unable to be dealt with at the national level the court serves as an incentive for local governments to give attention to their own judiciaries in order to avoid the international attention to their dysfunction as well as the spillover international attention to other areas of their governments outside of the judiciary that may be unwanted. This does not always work effectively, as is evidenced by the amount of cases that have ultimately been referred to the ICC, but in theory the court does try to present strong incentives for national leaders to increase the effectiveness of their own judiciaries.

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