The ICC finally handed down its second verdict, finding former Congolese Warlord Germain Katanga guilty of being an accessory to crimes against humanity, including being an accessory to murder and pillage. A large part of the conviction had to do with his supply of arms and munition to commanders who allegedly led the massacres in the Congo in 2003 that led to hundreds of civilian deaths. However, the ICC judges were not able to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Katanga himself was responsible for orchestrating and leading the massacres, hence the conviction of “accessory” rather than “perpetrator” of crimes against humanity.
What’s good about this?
It’s nice to finally get another conviction from the ICC, particularly in this case. Katanga’s counterpart, initially tried as a co-perpetrator but then split off into his own case, Mathieu Nngudjolo Chui, was acquitted in December of 2012. Sentencing has yet to occur, but several groups have already touted the conviction as providing a measure of justice to the victims of the violence that has wracked the Democratic Republic of Congo for over a decade.
What are the problems?
1. The severity of the verdict. In addition to only being found guilty of being an “accessory”, Katanga was acquitted of several more serious crimes, including use of child soldiers, rape, and sexual slavery. The lack of a conviction on the front of the sexual violence accusations is particularly disappointing, given the prevalence of sexual violence and rape in these types of crimes. Many were hoping that a firm ICC conviction on sexual violence could be an important step in addressing its role in mass violence.
2. The changed charges. Katanga was initially charged as a “co-perpetrator”, which was changed to “accessory” only recently. The defense and several critics of the verdict claim that the defense did not have time to adequately prepare for the changed charges, which affected their ability to defend Katanga in court. The defense is planning on appealing Katanga’s case on these claims.
3. The quality of ICC investigations. Many critics of the verdict claim that the prosecution was not able to build a strong case against Katanga because their investigation was not thorough enough. Phil Clark, an expert on the ICC from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, says that “the ICC has been doing its investigations on the cheap. It’s been using a really small group of investigators who haven’t spent an enormous amount of time in Congo. The prosecution has cut corners, they’ve used local Congolese intermediaries to do a lot of their dirty work. And as a result of that these cases haven’t been systematically built.”
This is, of course, a problem that speaks to the fact that the ICC both lacks funding, and depends entirely on cooperation from the states that it is conducting investigations in. It is difficult to see how stronger investigations can be built without substantial increases in funding.
While this verdict is an important advancement in the world of international justice, there is still much work to be done. This is only the second verdict in 11 years, and this trial alone has been ongoing for six years. The violence in the Congo continues to rage despite the ICC’s efforts in the region. Human Rights Watch has called upon the prosecutor to publicly commit to more investigation in the region, in hopes that it might eventually have a real impact.