ICC Finds Congolese Rebel Katanga Guilty in Third Judgment
Katanga responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in DRC village in 2003; acquitted of sexual and child soldier crimes
The Hague/Kinshasa—Germain Katanga, a Congolese rebel leader, was today found guilty at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of war crimes and crimes against humanity during an attack on a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2003. He was acquitted however of charges of sexual slavery and rape as well as using child soldiers.
“While the brutal attack on Bogoro village is but one of a growing list of grave crimes in eastern DRC, today’s verdict is a victory for victims and their families and sends a message to the perpetrators that they will be held to account. Victims may now be in line for reparations and redress to help rebuild their lives, a defining feature of the ICC system,” said William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC, a global civil society network. “However it is concerning that those responsible for the crimes of rape and using child soldiers, which continue to blight the region, have yet to be brought to justice. The Court must now increase its outreach to explain to victims and affected communities what has happened.”
A majority of ICC Trial Chamber II found that Katanga—commander of the rebel group Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri—was responsible for the crime against humanity of murder and the war crimes of willful killing, intentional attack against the civilian population, pillaging and destruction of property, during an attack on the village of Bogoro in the Ituri district of eastern DRC on 24 February 2003.
Although the judges said that the prosecution did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Katanga was present, they found that his provision of logistical and military support contributed to the “strike capacity” of a militia from the Ngiti ethnic group during the attack on a village of mainly Hema inhabitants, during which over 200 were killed.
“We welcome this second guilty verdict issued by the ICC as it brings hope of reparations to victims,” said Eloi Urwodhi Uciba, national coordinator of the DRC League for Peace, Human Rights and Justice. “The decision comes at the right time for the people of Ituri, as well as for all the affected communities in Irumu, Bunia and the surrounding area, which unfortunately are still plagued by violence,” Uciba continued, “Civilians still suffer from the cruelty of armed groups operating in the region. Strong national laws implementing the Rome Statute are needed to end such crimes.”
The trial chamber decided to use its powers to change Katanga’s alleged criminal responsibility from committing the crimes as a principal perpetrator to being liable as an accessory. Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert issued a partially dissenting opinion opposing the recharacterization.
The judges said that although the crimes of sexual slavery and rape as well as using child soldiers to participate actively in hostilities were proven to have taken place, there was not enough evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Katanga was responsible. They also decided it was not proven that Katanga was a principal perpetrator as a commander with powers to issue orders or punish troops.
"Katanga's acquittal on charges of rape and sexual slavery is a devastating result for the victims/survivors of the Bogoro attack, as well as other victims of these crimes committed by the FRPI within the ethnically-driven conflict in Ituri," said Brigid Inder, executive director of Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. "From the early stages of this case, there were indications that some of the judges considered the evidence supporting the charges of rape and sexual slavery against Katanga to be insufficient. In the confirmation of charges decision, the sexual violence charges were the only crimes confirmed by a majority of judges and not by the full bench. This was an early and important indication that the evidence underpinning the charges of rape and sexual slavery would need to be reinforced at trial."
"It appears the majority of the Trial Chamber found the three witnesses who testified in relation to the charges of sexual violence credible and stated that they believed rape and sexual slavery had been committed by Ngiti combatants on the day of the Bogoro attack. The Chamber recounted in its summary that all three witnesses were raped after being dragged out of their hiding places in the bush or their homes. However, the Chamber unanimously found Katanga not guilty of the acts of sexual violence as they did not believe these crimes formed part of the common purpose of the attack, unlike the crimes of directing an attack against a civilian population, pillage, murder and destruction of property," said Inder.
Both the prosecution and defense can appeal the judgment, which is the Court’s third to date.
Katanga was originally charged alongside Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui—alleged leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI) militia and a former colonel in the DRC armed forces—in a trial that started in November 2009.
The prosecution alleged that the two commanders, with their troops from the Lendu and Ngiti ethnic groups, intended to destroy Bogoro village.
However, in late 2012 the cases were split and Ngudjolo was acquitted Chui due to a lack of evidence. He was released from detention, and has since applied for asylum in The Netherlands.
“The DRC government now needs to build on the legacy of this judgment by ensuring greater national prosecutions of grave crimes committed in the east of the country,” Pace added. “The ICC must ensure that armed groups in the area are fully aware of the conviction of Katanga, so that the Court’s judgment can act as a deterrent to those who may continue to commit crimes. The ICC must also use the experiences of this trial to reduce the length of its proceedings.”
A total of 366 victims were authorized by judges to participate and were represented by two legal representatives for victims. Reparations to victims for harms suffered may now be ordered by the judges. Sentencing is to take place on another date so that any additional evidence or information that might impact upon its duration can be taken into consideration by the judges. The time that Katanga has already served in detention will also be taken into account.