The ICC and the DRC in 2015

Like Jean-Pierre Bemba at the ICC
Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 09:53

By Janet Anderson

It’s human nature I suppose, but also strange, that once cases actually come to the International Criminal Court, they get relatively scant attention. More focus is spent on the trying to get someone to court than on the nitty-gritty of an actual trial.

During this last year, there have been several cases at the ICC involving citizens from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We’ve covered them on Justice Hub, but they don’t get huge attention. I’ve been wondering: will next year see the end of the ICC’s involvement in Congo?

The short answer is no. For the long answer read further.

First off, a decision is expected in the case against former Congolese vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. Officially, that’s for his involvement in a round of violence in the neighbouring Central African Republic. But he is a huge figure in DRC politics and what happens to him matters in Kinshasa.

On that subject, how long does it take to issue a judgement? The evidence phase finished more than eighteen months ago and oral arguments from both sides were way back in November of last year, at which point the judges apparently said that they will deliver their decision within a “reasonable period of time.”

Since then, there have been applications from the defence about the prosecution not sharing evidence with them as it should. But still, that’s a long time. The Court is now talking about setting performance indicators. 

In the meantime, there’s a witness tampering case involving Bemba, which has been moving along a little swifter. It also plays big in DRC because that’s where Bemba’s political cronies and alleged collaborators in the case come from. There have been a lot of details about the tapping of phones and how Western Union works. Basic police work.

Also regarding DRC, there was the news this month about the Court's first-ever case, involving Thomas Lubanga – who was found guilty of recruiting child soldiers - and another former warlord Germain Katanga – he attacked a village in Ituri and aided and abetted war crimes and crimes against humanity. Both men have been sent back home to serve their sentences.

It was a first for the ICC.

Katanga has apologised, so in a few weeks he’ll be free to return to his community. We’ve covered the local views about this. “He’s served his sentence and paid for his crimes”, seems to sum up some of the local attitudes.

But Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui – who is also Congolese and was originally on trial with Katanga – was instead released by judges because the prosecution failed to prove its case and had a strange few years hanging around hotels and safe houses in The Hague while he tried to apply for asylum. He’s also back now in DRC, as detailed in this excellent piece by Benjamin Duerr.

This coming year, the trial of Bosco Ntaganda continues. For background, here’s the summary from the IJ Monitor. What’s interesting is to see is whether the flaws in the trial of Lubanga – his militia colleague – are being repeated or whether the prosecution has different evidence to convince the judges.

Back home in Kinshasa, the trials and tribulations of these people are overshadowed by the forthcoming elections in twelve months' time. That’s the real agenda for the international community - how to make them free and reasonably fair when the opposition and government are at daggers drawn. Will there be another Great Lakes' third-term controversy for a president, like in Burundi or Rwanda. Here’s some background on the contours of the debate.

However, one of the reasons why – beyond the current trials – the ICC may still have a role to play in DRC is that the east of the country is still plagued by armed groups.

The ICC still has a country on its books and is open for business.

However, a last caveat: you won’t hear much about the DRC because showier elements – like declarations by pressure groups that they are ‘bringing cases to the ICC’ and loads of posturing by Israel and Palestine – will dominate the headlines.

In fact, this basic work of the Court – bringing alleged war criminals to trial, however late and patchy its work may be – is what 2016 is really all about.

Lead image: Jean-Pierre Bemba at the ICC (Photo: Michel Kooren/ANP)



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