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Voices From the Ground

The Lubanga trial project, a joint initiative of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting Netherlands and the Open Society Justice Initiative, went on the road last month – to the city of Bukavu in eastern Congo’s South Kivu province.

DRC project coordinator Charles Mukandirwa and office assistant Backar Burubi met with lawyers, NGOs, journalists, students, religious leaders and local chiefs from July 26-August 3 to introduce them to the project and get their views on the trial and the International Criminal Court

It was clear that people had little information on the Lubanga trial but were nonetheless extremely interested in the latest developments in The Hague.

They also had many questions for the project team.

Pascal Munoka of the NGO Action pour le Développement des Communautés Paysannes asked why the ICC has not prosecuted those responsible for mass killings in Makobola and Kasika in 1998. He also wondered why those who worked with Lubanga were not on trial.

We also met with various student organisations to explain the project and the website. They asked whether it is only Lubanga who is responsible for crimes in Congo and whether his trial could be fair since he has been accused of crimes by the DRC government. They also wondered why only Africans are in The Hague.

At Ligue Nationale de la Jeunesse, a youth organization which operates across the country, they said the ICC is having little impact on the ground because of the slowness of its legal proceedings and its failure to communicate with local people about the trial or its investigations. Pablo Muke, Trish Mastaki and Joel Mapatano agreed the IWPR/OSI joint project could help fill that information void.

NGO worker Yvette Kabuo Tsongo from Réseau des Femmes Pour la Défense des Droits et la Paix believes Congolese are losing confidence in the ICC because of its poor visibility.

The meetings were followed by a day of exchange that gave local groups a public forum to share their views on international justice and the Lubanga trial. Attended by 51 people, the discussion was a lively one. Participants said that before the Lubanga trial project they had little access to information about the ICC and the trial and they would use what they had learned in their professional activities.

One topic for discussion was the failure of the United States, Russia and China to ratify the Rome Statute, meaning its citizens are unlikely to stand trial there.

The participants had numerous questions for the project team including:

  • Why is it only the Congolese arrest warrants have been executed?
  • Can an NGO make a complaint to the ICC or is it only the president who can call in the court?
  • Has the court arrested any of Lubanga’s associates?
  • Does the ICC not understand that its poor visibility has a negative impact – particularly with regard to the recruitment of children into militia groups?
  • Why has the ICC prosecutor decided to charge Lubanga only with recruiting children?

At the end of the day participants evaluated the discussion and made recommendations for IWPR Netherlands and OSI regarding the future of the project which they hoped would continue throughout the trial. They asked it be extended to target more rural areas of South Kivu and expanded to include the upcoming trials of Germain Katanga, Mathieu Ngudjolo and Jean-Pierre Bemba.

They also urged IWPR to continue its radio programme on international justice, Facing Justice, and consider expanding it to television to increase its audience.

Similar events are planned around the country in the coming months as it is clear that Congolese need more information about the ICC and should be given the opportunity to join in the ongoing debate about international justice.

The project team in late June hosted a similar exchange in the North Kivu provincial capital Goma where IWPR-OSI has recently opened its office. As in Bukavu, around 60 participants said they were interested in the ICC but had little information on the hearings in The Hague.