By Emanuele del Rosso
It looks likely that Germain Katanga might soon be a free man. The 37-year-old Congolese commander of the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri (FRPI) was sentenced in 2014 to 12 years imprisonment. Seven years were deducted from his sentence because of the time he spent in detention at the ICC during the trial.
He is now eligible for an early release. Indeed, according to Article 110 of the Rome Statute, a review is mandatory at the two-thirds mark of a sentence. The hearing is scheduled for today, 6 October.
Of course, reviewing a sentence does not mean automatically shortening it.
Yet, Katanga appears to be on the right path to convince the review panel, since even the OTP has made positive remarks on the matter, endorsing some of the points made by Katanga’s defence.
Pro and Cons of Katanga’s early release
The Office of the Prosecutor, in its report, highlights some arguments that the defence brought as key reasons for an early release of Katanga. Especially, his willing to apologise in person to the victims, his good behaviour in prison and his expression of regret for his deeds seem to have made a positive impression. Moreover, there are some precedents with ICTY inmates who behaved like Katanga and had their sentences reduced.
Still, the prosecution has some doubts. What would be the impact of his liberation on some of the Congolese communities that were hard hit by RFPI attacks? Is Katanga’s behaviour sincere? Would he go back to his old friends, as soon as he was out of the Court’s reach?
But, in spite of all these questions, the OTP “does not oppose Mr Katanga’s early release”.
LRV raise doubts
The legal representative of victims, for his part, is highly sceptical about an early release for Katanga. According to the victims’ team, some of the elements the defence presented to support its client’s request have to be “taken with caution”.
They argue that Katanga’s impeccable behaviour in jail might simply be a technique to survive in the prison environment – something that would immediately change once he’s a free man.
Secondly, many of Katanga’s victims are not satisfied with the 12-year prison sentence, let alone with an early release. The legal representative of victims say they will be seriously traumatised by such a decision and this would reinforce their sense of impunity.
Moreover, and most importantly, according to the LRV, the interviews the defence conducted in Bogoro – a village in the Ituri region – were biased. The defence team went there with the intention of demonstrating that the affected favoured Katanga’s early release, but in fact, a relevant part of the population was left out of the consultations.
According to the LRV, the region of Ituri is not – as the defence claims – tranquil. The long-lasting conflict in the north-eastern part of the DRC is not over, and the “reconciliation between the communities is not deep”. The early release of one of the commanders of the armed wing of the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) could generate tensions and anger.
Lead image: Germain Katanga at the International Criminal Court (Photo: ICC-CPI)