Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
During the four-day pre-trial Bemba hearing, which began on January 12, the public galleries were full of vociferous supporters of Congo’s former vice-president, many of whom were members of his Mouvement de Liberation du Congo, MLC, party.
They queued for hours in freezing temperatures outside the public entrance of the ICC, in the Dutch city of The Hague, to support the man they consider to be their leader.
Outside the court building, they waved flags and handed out flyers. Once inside the public gallery, they had to be hushed several times by security guards for their continual outbursts as they listened to the prosecution relay evidence against Bemba.
Many were left standing outside in the cold, because there was simply not enough room to accommodate everyone in the gallery.
IWPR reporters spent the week talking to NGOs, Bemba supporters and family members, recording interviews for broadcast on the project’s radio programme Face a La Justice, which is broadcast throughout the DRC on the Search for Common Ground radio network.
On January 26, proceedings began against Lubanga, an Ituri militia leader who was indicted by the ICC in February 2006. Although he’s been in custody since March 2006, his case has been beset with problems which have led to lengthy delays to the start of the trial.
Since the very early stages, proceedings against Lubanga have been postponed continually because of concerns about the safety of victims and witnesses in Ituri.
Ewing Ahmed Salumu, IWPR’s Swahili presenter for Face a La Justice, has flown over for the first month of the trial, which he says is very significant for the people of the DRC.
“Before I left, people were trying to see if [trials at the ICC] can be possible. We heard after the Bemba trial, that the ICC is a political thing so the people questioned the legitimacy of the trial against Lubanga,” he said.
Salumu said the ICC’s first trial was “a very good moment” for the country, as it has the potential to help “break impunity, and bring the light of justice [to] our country”.
The presenter said it is significant to have someone from the Congo, who understands the situation on the ground, reporting from The Hague.
“When I report, people say ‘one of us was reporting about that’,” he said.
Salumu said he thought that relaying information about developments at the ICC could warn those still committing crimes in the country that they are not immune from prosecution.
“Face a la Justice allows people to understand what is being done to tackle impunity. People are SMS-ing me for information. Radio stations want to know what exactly is going on here every single day,” he said.
“We face and we live war crimes every day. When we report on crimes, we bring information to people to warn them that if they commit crimes, they could face justice one day.”
Salumu said that the radio reports – which are broadcast in French, Langala and Swahili – are also helping people to “understand in their own language what war crimes are, what impunity is, and how [work at the court is taking off]”.
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