The International Criminal Court in The Hague is expected to deliver its second verdict ever on Tuesday. Ngudjolo Chui, a former Congolese militia leader, stands accused of a massace in Ituri province ten years ago.
The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been embroiled in armed conflict almost continuously since the mid-1990s. This year the spotlight was on a rebellion in North Kivu, though there have been many theaters of war in the Congo. Ten years ago, the bloodshed in Ituri was reaching its climax. Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner from rights group Human Rights Watch says thousands of civilians were burnt alive in their houses, tortured, killed with machetes and raped. Women were taken as sexual slaves. These are "very, very serious crimes that were committed against the civilians," she added.
In February 2003, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was leader of the Nationalist Integrationist Front (FNI) and in this capacity, he is alleged by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to have been responsible for a massacre in the village of Bogoro, in which at least 200 people were killed.
Many such massacres were occurring in Ituri at that time. Two groups were pitted against each other, cattle breeders and land owners from the Hema on the one side and small farmers from the Lendu on the other. Fighting intensified at the end of the 1990s, when the war against President Laurent-Desire Kabila broke out and other armed groups penetrated the region. Alex Veit, an expert on the DRC at the University of Bremen in Germany, said Ngudjolo, a member of Lendu, joined a militia group and quickly became its leader.
Absence of hierarchy
Veit says that at that time there was a lot of foreign, international involvement in Ituri. Groups without names weren't allowed to take part in the negotiations and that was why the Nationalist Integrationist Front, the NFI, was founded. But despite its name, "it continued to be made up of local militia groups with local roots," Veit explained.
Germain Katanga faces charges similar to those confronting Ngudjolo
It was this absence of any hierarchy that made it difficult to name culprits responsible for crimes. This is one reason why the ICC will only reach a verdict in Ngudjolo's case. Another militia leader, Germain Katanga, was charged with him for the same massacre, but his case will now be dealt with separately.
An opponent of Ngudjolo, former Hema militia leader, Thomas Lubanga, was found guilty of human rights violations by the ICC in March. He belonged to the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and his case was the first in the history of the ICC in which it delivered a verdict. Ngudjolo Chui's case will be the second.
Did not dig deep enough
Veit said this case is of little significance for the current conflict in the DRC. Nonetheless, it is in the interests of justice and posterity that both sides are called to account for their actions in Ituri. Jean-Bosco Lalo, civil society coordinator in Ituri, says he has confidence in the international legal system, but that the peace that they have achieved in Ituri was not simply the work of the ICC. "The people of Ituri desired peace with their hearts and set about achieving it," he said.
Mattioli-Zeltner believes that the investigators looking into these human rights abuses have not dug deep enough. "It was right for the ICC to look at those leaders but certainly they were not the only ones responsible and we've repeated many, many times that the office of the prosecutor should also have investigated those who armed, financed and supported the militia in eastern Congo."
She was referring to Uganda's involvement in Ituri, a highly sensitive and topical issue as Uganda and Rwanda are suspected of supporting rebels in the current uprising in North Kivu.