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ICC sentences DRC warlord Katanga to 12 years

Philipp Sandner / soMay 23, 2014

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has sentenced former Congolese warlord Katanga to 12 years in jail. Yet human rights groups think the court has not done enough.

Germain Katanga in the ICC
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Three judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) passed their verdict on the DRC warlord, Germain Katanga, on Friday. In March, the court found Katanga guilty of "murder as a crime against humanity" and "murder as a war crime." He was also convicted of attacks on the civilian population, as well as destroying and looting property.

On February 24, 2003, Katanga's militias attacked the village of Bogoro in the northeastern province of Ituri. Most of the victims belonged to the Hema ethnic group. The fighters of the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI) are said to have killed some 200 civilians, in addition to plundering and raping. Congolese authorities arrested Katanga in 2007 and handed him over to the ICC.

Judge Bruno Cotte at the ICC
Judged Bruno Cotte described how the rebels attacked the village armed mainly with machetes.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Lenient verdict?

The eastern Democractic Republic of Congo has been a scene of conflict since the mid-1990s. The verdict is a step in the right direction, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner from Human Rights Watch told DW in March this year, when Katanga was initially found guilty. She had hoped for an even harsher sentence, as the court only convicted Katanga for being complicit in the crimes, but not as the main perpetrator. "The court did not have enough evidence to show that Katanga was present and in full control of the rebels at the time of the Bogoro massacre," she explains.

In eastern DRC itself, the people received the verdict with mixed feelings. "Katanga killed and massacred people. The fact that he has been condemned to 12 years in prison will make other enemies of peace think twice," explained a resident of the town of Beni.

Jean-Bosco Lalo, a representative of Ituri's civil society, who spoke to DW in March, thought differently of the matter. "The people here will not benefit from this verdict", he said. According to Lalo, little has changed for the people in the region. Initially they had hoped for some kind of compensation, but a fund set up by the ICC only supports certain groups of the victims, like child soldiers. Other people are left to fend for themselves. The court has done little to involve the people actually affected by the conflict, says Lalo: "We don't understand their proceedings. They just do it their way."

Acquittal for crimes of sexual violence

The ICC judges were also heavily criticized for failing to charge Katanga for crimes relating to the recruitment of child soldiers, rape and sexual enslavement. Brigid Inder from the Women's Initiative for Gender Justice called it a "devastating result for the victims and survivors of the Bogoro attack."

A handcuffed Germain Katanga boards an airplane in 2007
DRC authorities handed Katanga over to the ICC in 2007.Image: STR/AFP/GettyImages

DW’s female listeners in eastern DRC voiced their disappointment:"Katanga should be condemned for all his crimes," said one woman. "The women that he raped, he basically stole their lives.” Another woman from Beni described how the militants used rape as a weapon of war: „Here in DRC, many people see rape as a game but we women and mothers suffer a lot as a result of this.”

Following the acquittal for crimes of sexual violence, Ugandan women's rights activist, Sheila Muwanga from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), called for a new strategy of addressing crimes of sexual violence. "It is urgent that the Office of the Prosecutor draws the necessary conclusions and takes them into account in its new strategy on investigations and prosecutions," she said. On March 7, 2014, FIDH and its member organizations in the Democratic Republic of Congo called on the ICC and the Congolese authorities to "engage in a wide outreach program in order to explain this judicial decision in DRC and in particular to affected communities."

Thomas Lubanga, another Congolese warlord was also convicted for war crimes in eastern DRC. Katanga is the second person to be sentenced by the court. His lawyers have 30 days to appeal the sentence. The judges said that they would deduct the time Katanga has already spent in custody since 2007.