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Lukewarm Response to Guilty Verdict for DRC Warlord

Emmanuel Chaco

KINSHASA, Mar 14 2012 (IPS) - The International Criminal Court delivered its first verdict Wednesday: Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was found guilty of recruiting children under the age of 15 to fight in a militia group in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The ICC, based in the Hague, found that in his capacity as leader of both the UPC (Union of Congolese Patriots) and its military wing, the FPLC (Patriotic Force for the Liberation of the Congo), Lubanga caused children to take an active part in hostilities in the eastern DRC region of Ituri between September 2002 and August 2003, including using them as bodyguards for himself and other members of the two organisations.

Sentencing is yet to take place, but according to lawyers, Lubanga now faces 30 years in prison or a life sentence.

Franck Luetete, who represented several victims in the Lubanga case, told IPS, “In line with the provisions of article 76 of the Rome Statute (which established the ICC) and Lubanga’s own request, the Chamber will dedicate its next session to determining a sentence and compensation for victims.”

Raphaël Wakenge, the president of the Congolese Coalition for Transitional Justice (CCJT), a local non-governmental organisation which has offered support for victims during the lengthy court case, told IPS, “The coalition is delighted with this first decision, which is also instructive with regards to all crimes committed in DRC since the ICC began its work.

“Unfortunately,” Wakenge added, “victims of rape and sexual slavery, as well as other sex-related crimes committed by Lubanga and his militia, will feel frustrated, as these crimes were not included in this case by the ICC prosecutor.”

Faïda Sady is a human rights defender with an NGO called Espoir Pour Tous – “Hope for All” – based in the Irumu district of the Ituri region. “One of my older brothers refused to join the militia, and Lubanga’s fighters cut off both his arms – he died several months later. Two of my sisters were gang-raped repeatedly by militia members. One died from the assault.”

Sady says the verdict handed down does nothing for her or her family. “The victims in my family were not called (as witnesses) in this trial. But NGOs in Ituri will continue to press the ICC to open a second case against Lubanga for the crimes and victims who have not yet been taken into account,” she said.

“The impact of this verdict is very weak,” said Guy Mushiata, the Kinshasa-based legal officer for the International Centre for Transitional Justice, a U.S NGO. “The verdict itself is not definitive.”

Mushiata has closely followed the case and submitted several opinions to the ICC prosecutor’s office dealing with reparations for victims. “By itself, this decision will still not satisfy since it could still be struck down on appeal. And it is not, in itself, a conviction with which victims can be satisfied.”

Observing the decision, military prosecutors in DRC feel that the ICC verdict has only demonstrated the court’s ineffectiveness. One of these prosecutors, Penza Ishay, told IPS, “The enormous financial and material resources available to the ICC have still not enabled it to produce a verdict in a reasonable time.”

Lubanga was transferred to the Hague, in the Netherlands, on Mar. 17, 2006, following the execution of an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court; the warrant followed on a request from Joseph Kabila, the president of the DRC, to the ICC prosecutor to carry out inquiries into grave violations of human rights in the country and to open cases where the court was competent.

Ishay said that the majority of cases of grave violations of human rights in Ituri would have already been dealt with if the same resources were given to the Congo’s own judicial system.

“The ICC is not well-regarded in Ituri,” the military prosecutor said. “Instead of delivering justice, it has tried to walk a tightrope between the two largest ethnic groups (Balendu and Bahema), pursuing charges against two people from each side, even though the seriousness of the crimes is not necessarily the same, and members of these groups are not the only perpetrators – nor the most culpable – when it comes to violations committed in Ituri.”

Major Innocent Mayembe, a Congolese military lawyer, says military courts are the most effective means to fight against impunity for serious human rights abuses. “Many victims of these violations have had the moral satisfaction of seeing their aggressors convicted on the ground in Ituri where they once felt themselves to be untouchable.”

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