The ICC and Non-State Armed Group Adherence to International Humanitarian Law

Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted militia leader, Germain Katanga. Katanga was found guilty for his role in an attack in 2003 which resulted in the violent deaths of more than 200 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Katanga’s conviction is a milestone for the ICC, as it is only the second conviction in the more than a decade of the court’s existence.

Katanga’s conviction brings about some sense of justice for the victims of the crimes against humanity that occurred in 2003. On the one hand, there is a great sense of importance given to a conviction of the international system’s court. On the other hand, the inherent delayed nature of the ICC does blight this sense of justice. It is important to remember that the survivors of these crimes have been living with the consequences and effects of these attacks since 2003. For example, the female survivors were raped and kept as sex slaves.

An ICC conviction does not fix all the issues that arose from these attacks, but it carries a significant symbolic meaning.

A greater question that comes to mind in light of these events. Will this conviction affect the future actions of non-state armed groups operating in sub-saharan Africa? Is this conviction enough to tame the actions of these actors? Will these armed groups adhere more closely to international humanitarian law (IHL) in the future?

There are many incentives for non-state armed groups to adhere to IHL. In a cost-benefit analysis, these groups consider public image, internal members’ morale, military strategy, etc. when planning out attacks and other actions. Detracting from these incentives to adhere to IHL are the nature of some conflicts (especially sectarian conflict), a sense of revenge, inability to control armed group members, and asymmetric conflicts (when the non-state armed group is fighting at the significantly more powerful State). However, this conviction brings up a new incentive: the fear of consequences.

In the world of non-state armed groups and their members, is the conviction of one leader (more than 10 years later) enough to carry weight in this decision-making? I think a lot of this depends on the sentencing of Katanga, which is still in process. Katanga was convicted for his leadership role in the events, meaning that this new potential incentive would affect the leaders of these armed groups. As mentioned before, even if leaders want to adhere to IHL, they may not be able to effectively enact this adherence. For example, some groups do not have the resources to pay their members, and as a result ‘pay’ their members through the subsequent looting and pillaging that result from attacks.

It will be interesting to see if this conviction has any effect on the nature of future conflicts.

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