Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Second Congolese Rebel in ICC Custody

Rights activists say court should now start to probe the big power-brokers in the Congolese conflict.
By Katy Glassborow
Human rights campaigners have urged the International Criminal Court, ICC, to begin investigating senior political and military leaders who backed Congolese militias, following the transfer today (October 18) of a former rebel leader to The Hague to face war crimes charges.

Germain Katanga, leader of the Patriotic Resistance Force, FRPI, militia group, is alleged to have committed six war crimes and three crimes against humanity in the troubled Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, in February 2003 - the second senior rebel figure to be detained by the Netherlands-based court.

Rival militia chief Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was transferred to The Hague in 2006. He founded and led the Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC, and is accused of recruiting child soldiers in Ituri.

Human rights groups welcomed the latest transfer, suggesting it would ease tensions in Ituri, but called on the ICC to start probing individuals further up the chain of command.

The Congolese authorities handed Katanga over to ICC custody on October 17, at which point a sealed indictment against the suspect was made public.

Prosecutors say Katanga planned and implemented an “indiscriminate killing spree” in the Ituri village of Bogoro during which 200 civilians died. Survivors are said to have been held in buildings filled with corpses and their village was razed by the FRPI attackers. Charges include murder, sexual enslavement of women and girls, inhumane acts and the use of child soldiers.

“[Katanga’s] name will forever be associated with the name of Bogoro, an ordinary village which he ordered fighters under his command to wipe out,” said ICC deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a press release. “Hundreds were slaughtered. Women were forced into sexual slavery.”

While several ICC suspects who remain at large, Katanga has been in custody in Kinshasa since March 2005 when he was arrested along with eight other militiamen in relation to an attack against Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Ituri. Nine peacekeepers died.

Bensouda praised the Congolese for executing the arrest warrants and surrendering Katanga to The Hague. “The cooperation we have been receiving from the Congolese authorities is good,” she told IWPR. “The fact we have been able to get a second person transferred to the court is an indication of how good the cooperation has been.”

The ICC has struggled in the past to execute its warrants. In Sudan, the government has refused to hand over two men wanted by the court. In northern Uganda, meanwhile, four members of the Lord’s Resistance Army are also still at large, just over the border in the Congo.

Human rights groups say Katanga’s transfer to the Hague would improve security in Ituri where ethnic tension is running high.

Lubanga’s UPC is made up primarily of members of the Hema community, many of whom were concerned that they alone were singled out by the court as war criminals. Katanga is an Ngiti and his FRPI is closely linked with the Nationalist and Integrationist Front, FNI. The FNI is comprised of members of the Lendu ethnic group, the Hema’s opponents in the Ituri conflict.

“Following the Lubanga arrest there was a perception of one-sided justice in Ituri and a feeling that the Hema were being targeted,” said Param-Preet Singh, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch’s international justice programme.

“This arrest warrant will help mitigate this perception, depending on how much outreach the ICC does to make sure the message is conveyed to the affected communities.”

Despite the tensions created by the Lubanga arrest, Bensouda denied that prosecutors felt under pressure to choose someone from a different ethnic group this time. “We continue to work on the basis of the evidence we find,” she said. “We are certainly not working in relation to any other criteria. The evidence is what drives us. This is what we follow.”

When Lubanga was arrested, prosecutors were criticised for the narrow range of charges they levied – three counts relating to the recruitment of child soldiers in Ituri.

Singh said she was pleased that the charges against Katanga were more comprehensive. “It is important that the arrest warrants reflect the extent of victimisation, and the incident chosen is a good one,” she said.

Mariana Goetz, an ICC advisor with London-based Redress which seeks reparations for torture survivors, cited the inclusion of sexual slavery on the charge sheet as a “very positive development”. However, Goetz was concerned that rape wasn’t among the charges.

“It is perhaps a missed opportunity not to have included rape as well, particularly given the constant reminders we are getting from the ground that rape continues to be a normalised course of action for armed groups in the Congo,” she said.

Bensouda repeated that prosecutors can only lay charges for which they have enough evidence. “It is the crimes we are able to prove and to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that we will always bring before the court,” she said.

Kinshasa-based journalist Desire-Israel Kazadi said residents of the capital welcomed the news of the arrest but said some are concerned about the reaction of Katanga loyalists.

Many of those come from the FRPI, Katanga’s 9,000-strong force, according to a report from Human Rights Watch. He also served several months in the Congolese army as a general.

The Congolese NGO the League for Peace and Human Rights told IWPR that reaction to Katanga’s arrest had been mixed. A spokesman said some in the Ituri region are happy while others think the ICC should have focused on those who have committed more serious crimes. “We note a general satisfaction among NGOs especially for the crimes like sexual slavery, murders, and cruel and inhumane treatment,” said the spokesman.

Bensouda said investigators are continuing their work in the Congo and are in the process of selecting a third case.

Human Rights Watch’s Singh urged the court to reach higher next time.

“The arrest of Katanga is a big step forward because his militia committed a number of horrible atrocities, but his militia and a number of others within the DRC were backed by political masters in Kinshasa, Kampala and Kigali,” she said. “We encourage [prosecutors] to include an investigation of those senior political and military officials who provided support to those militia. We want them to go up the chain of command.”

Katanga will make his first appearance before ICC judges on October 22.

Lisa Clifford, Katy Glassborow and Sonia Nezamzadeh are IWPR reporters in The Hague.