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DR Congo

ICC orders damages for victims of Congolese warlord

Germain Katanga was a Congolese warlord who ordered a brutal attack on a village in Ituri province in 2003. 297 surviving victims have now been awarded collective and individual damages by the ICC.

Fourteen years ago the militia of Hema and Lendu communities were waging war against one another in the province of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tens of thousands lost their lives, hundreds of thousands were displaced and human rights organizations were warning of the possibility of genocide. 

Two warlords were subsequently prosecuted and convicted by the International  Criminal Court. Thomas Lubanga of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) Hema militia was given a 14 year jail term. German Katanga, who led the Lendu milita, received 12 years but his sentence was later reduced.

$250 as symbolic payment  

The ICC convened again on Friday and ordered the symbolic payment of $250 (231 euros) to be paid to 297 of Katanga's victims for a brutal attack on their village in 2003. Awarding both individual and collective damages to the victims, the court also found that Katanga was liable for $1 million of total damages estimated at $3.7 million. Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, said the collective damages would go towards "help in accommodation, support in income-generating activities, education and psychological support for the victims."      

The province of Ituri has long since ceased to be the focus of international concern even though it is still struggling to cope with the aftermath of the conflict. Many displaced persons have yet to return home, former child soldiers are still trying to find out how - or if - they can fit into a society that lost its bearings in the chaos of civil war. Charles Kitambala was among those forced to leave their homes. He told DW how he fled from Bunia, capital of Ituri, in a hail of bullets. He is not thinking of returning there as he now lives in the city of Beni some 200 kilometers (124 miles) away where he has built a new life for himself.

He doesn't attach any great hopes to the prospect of compensation. "It will be a purely symbolic step and the identity of many of the victims isn't known anyway. And one cannot bring the dead back to life. It won't be possible to make up for what we have suffered," Kitambala said.

 A child soldier from the rebel UPC during a rally in Bunia in 2003

A child soldier from the rebel UPC during a rally in Bunia in 2003

The ICC ordered compensation to be paid after Lubanga was convicted. Clarity has yet to be established over the state of Lubanga's finances and until this has been achieved, the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), an independent body set up under the ICC's founding guidelines, will disburse payments up to a total sum of one million euros ($ 1.08 million).

It is a time-consuming process. Jean-Bosco Lala, spokesman for an alliance of civil society groups in Ituri, said that in the end the wrong people will benefit from this payments scheme. The majority of the victims live in outlying villages and cannot be reached by the fund. "The local community won't see the bulk of the money, it will be dissipated along a chain of middlemen. Local groups will be left with the crumbs," Lala said.

Thomas Lubanga at the ICC

Thomas Lubanga was found guilty of recruting thousands of child soldiers some as young as eight

Pieter de Baan runs the TFV, which is financed by contributions from ICC member states. He is familiar with the criticism leveled at the fund but says that its collaboration with local organizations is very effective. The TFV has already provided assistance to more than 100,000 people, "We provide psychological counseling, physical rehabilitation and material support in the form of further education or training and microcredits," he said.

Projects out to tender

However, these measures are not the same as the compensation payments ordered by the court which are intended explicitly for Lubanga's victims. They include child soldiers recruited by the UPC. But De Baan said that projects worth 150,000 euros to help victims deal with the conflict and rebuild their lives had already been put out to tender. "We have already received bids for these projects which we are evaluating. We hope that they will be able to start in May." There are other forms of compensation - direct payments to victims - but the court has to give its approval before they can go ahead.

Victims of the violence unleashed by Lubanga have therefore yet to receive any tangible compensation even though he was pronounced guilty five years ago. It remains to be seen how long  Katanga's victims have to wait before they receive the damages they were promised on Friday.

           

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