By Elvis Katsana
In Goma, the main town in the province of North Kivu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are widely differing views about the International Criminal Court. The release of four men implicated in the case involving the Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo has led some to believe that the Court wants to improve its image.
“If the International Criminal Court delivered a decision like this regarding a case in the DRC, it’s not to improve its image, but rather because it is impartial”, says a lawyer in Goma. “If there’s little evidence, there’s little chance of getting a conviction.”
On 29 May, the ICC Appeals Chamber ordered the interim release of Aimé Kilolo, Jean-Jacques Mangenda, Fidèle Balala and Narcisse Arido, all four of whom are suspected of offences against the administration of justice allegedly committed in connection with the case against Jean-Pierre Bemba. The ruling made news in Goma. During a political tour of the eastern DRC, Eve Bazaiba Masudi, the secretary general of the political party founded by Bemba – the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) – welcomed the ICC judges’ decision. She told a crowd that she hoped that Bemba, who is the president of the opposition party, would soon be released because there is no solid proof against him.
When the ICC stands accused
“The ICC imprisons people, like Bemba, who refuse its neo-colonialism and protects those who submit themselves to the Court”, says 44-year-old Mutima Yaya, an activist in the DRC's second opposition party. He considers the ICC a new form of neo-colonialism in Africa.
According to Siril Muhogya, the executive federal secretary of the current ruling political party – the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) – in North Kivu, the ICC is just doing its work. He says it’s up to the ICC to arrest or release people, and it’s normal that this happens in DRC because the country is a signatory to the Rome Statute. “We believe that freeing those four”, says Muhogya, “has nothing to do with the Congolese government. They were arrested for offences they allegedly committed, and the ICC should do what it has to.” He strongly disagrees with the view that the ICC is a neo-colonial instrument, adding that “if someone from the opposition or other people commit crimes, they should be tried”. He said it was important to dispense justice at an international level if someone feels discriminated against at the national level.
"We’re in favour of the ICC in RDC"
The Study Centre for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights (CEPADHO) supports the work of the ICC in the DRC. The centre’s coordinator, Omar Kavota, suggests that for the ICC to be more effective, it should be closer to the affected communities while at the same time being accessible to everyone.
Dufina Tabu Mwenebatende is the president of the Association of Congolese Volunteers (ASVOCO) in Goma, an NGO created 30 years ago to protect and promote human rights. He says, “we were the first to ask the ICC to come to the DRC, so we are in favour of the ICC. That’s why it should help us to do the work which needs to be done in terms of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These haven’t been investigated by the Congolese judiciary, which is often corrupt. Our association has even sent an open letter to President Joseph Kabila about the situation.” According to Dufina, “we can put our trust in the ICC while we wait for the Congolese government to improve the country’s legal system”.
Lead image: Supporters of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, calling for the release of their leader, Jean-Pierre Bemba (Photo: Elvis Katsana/Justice Hub)