12 March 2014

Congo-Kinshasa: What Do Ituri Residents Say About the Katanga Verdict?

Photo: © ICC-CPI
Germain Katanga at the hearing held on May 23, 2014, at the seat of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Many young Ituri residents welcomed the International Criminal Court's sentence against Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga. They hope it will deter future offenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Germain Katanga had to be found guilty, just like Thomas Lubanga was in 2012," says Bienvenue Doudou. "His acquittal would have felt like a knife thrust through the hearts of all the victims of the crimes he was on trial for."

That the warlord's conviction will discourage prospective criminals across the country is also a belief held by Doudou, a young man in Bunia, the capital of the Ituri district in eastern DRC, where Katanga's alleged atrocities took place in 2003.

Last Friday, ICC judges found the Congolese militia leader Katanga guilty of one count of crime against humanity and four counts of war crimes.

However, he was found not guilty of involvement in rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers; the ICC judges were unable to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The court has decided to keep Katanga in custody until it reaches a verdict on his sentence.

"ICC judges should do their job"

"We all expected this verdict," says another resident of Bunia. This young man has a personal connection to the Katanga case.

He explains: "Germain Katanga - known by the nickname Anguluma, which means 'the vibrant one' - had established his base by the Semuliki River near the Ugandan border.

During his patrols, he would shoot at anyone who wasn't from his army. I was even a first-hand witness of this on one occasion. I was admitted to the same hospital as one of his victims, who told us how she lost 16 family members in the atrocities. Anyway, the ICC judges should do their job by handing him a fitting sentence. This will deter other criminals from committing the same exactions."

The Bunia resident adds that the court must carry on with its investigations to find those behind all these crimes.

"This remains a great challenge for the ICC, but could bring some relief to the Ituri populations," he says.

"To heal a wound"

Many families are scared, to this day, by the crimes that cost more than 200 lives in Bogoro, according to another local, Anges Mlly. Encountered on the street on the day of the verdict's announcement, the young woman clearly welcomed Katanga's conviction.

Like Mlly, Ituri residents on the whole seem satisfied with the ICC's decision. They hope that the verdict will not prevent other perpetrators of the crimes committed in the region in 2003 from being prosecuted. Others, however, have remained indifferent to, if not against, the work of the ICC.

"The court should not only focus on Africans, as many criminals still run the streets in Western countries," says one resident in Bunia.

"To heal a wound, one needs to address the cause of the infection," says another resident. "Until the ICC arrests the real perpetrators of the crimes in the Ituri region, nothing will come to an end. I'm not being a prophet of doom."

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