The opinions of the victims of crimes committed by Bosco Ntaganda are divided in regards to the delays that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the reparations proceedings. Some are optimistic, while others no longer believe they will receive reparations given there is no sign of the pandemic coming to an end.
"We welcome this decision because the whole world is aware of COVID-19. The crimes were committed a very long time ago and we have always been patient. What matters is that reparations are delivered to victims who have lost their loved ones," explained Didi Angaika, a public figure and one of the representatives of the Lendu Sud community.
In July 2020, the International Criminal Court's (ICC) judges provided an extra two months to the experts who were appointed to provide a report on the nature and extent of reparations in the Bosco Ntaganda case. The extension was necessary because restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 meant that the experts' progress was slower than anticipated.
With the experts' report now due at the end of October, the victims' lawyers will have up until mid-December of this year, rather than October, to make their final submissions on reparations in the case. These extensions in effect lengthen the victims' wait for the reparations order.
Bosco Ntaganda was prosecuted for crimes committed in 2002-2003 while he served as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo -FPLC). He gave himself up voluntarily to the ICC in 2013 and his trial began in 2015. He was sentenced in July 2019 for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Given how much time has gone by, some victims view the court very critically.
"I think this is to draw the victims' attention away. Instead of saying clearly that there will be no reparations, they are using COVID-19 as a pretext," said a stunned young victim from the Bankoko quarter, south of Bunia.
"All activity has restarted. All offices are operating here, even in Kinshasa. How long do we have to wait for reparations? Tell us! I was a victim in Lipri [20 km north of Bunia] and in Mongbwalu [mining town 80 km north of Bunia]. Bosco's soldiers raped me and my husband, a shopkeeper, had his store pillaged. How long are we going to wait? They need to speed things up!" said a woman we met in Bankoko, expressing her anger.
Other victims have been patient. They still have hope.
"A promise is a debt. The ICC has promised us reparations. We're going to wait for their decision, but we don't want a new delay. The ICC must not disappear before paying our debt," says a woman who was a victim in Kindia, south of Bunia.
A young leader from Kindia added: "We've seen several promises made by the ICC and several delays, even before COVID-19. The majority of victims have lost heart, but we are patient. However, patience has its limits. Today, those who are not patient have taken up their arms again and are killing in Ituri so as to have something."
Didi Angaika, the public figure from the victim community of Lendu Sud, called on victims not to lose heart.
"I am calling on those victims who are disheartened to have patience. I personally do not see any risk with this extension. The reason is well substantiated. We simply have to wait for the big day. We are placing a lot of trust in the good faith of the ICC that reparations will be granted before too long."
Article 35(2) of the Regulations of the Court states that the Chamber may extend or reduce a time limit if good cause is shown. Trial Chamber VI, which is composed of judges Chang-ho Chung (presiding), Robert Fremr, and Olga Herrera Carbuccia, cited the difficulties encountered by the experts to meet victims remotely in order to obtain their views and concerns, due to COVID-19-related restrictions and the local security situation.
Ntaganda has appealed his conviction and 30-year prison sentence. A hearing on his appeals has also been postponed due to the pandemic. It has now been re-scheduled for 12 to 14 October 2020.