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.