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Opening Statements of the Victims' Legal Representatives

We must also recognize the importance of the opening statements by the legal representatives of the victims on the first day of trial.  The legal representatives speak on behalf of the victims of the crimes in the DRC that Gemain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chiu are being charged with criminal responsibility.  They described their clients as children who are struggling to understand the violence they experienced and are coping with physical and psychological suffering.  The legal representatives also stressed why this trial is of great significance to victims as it will reveal the truth of what happened to them, combat impunity, and hopefully end the cycle of violence in the DRC.

Here is the opening statements by the Legal Representatives of the Victims made on the first day of trial on November 24, 2009.  The full transcript is available here: http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/exeres/BB95CE30-5C9C-428B-BDD9-1B8BF127D2B8.htm.


MR GILISSEN: (Legal Representative of the Victims through interpretation from French) Thank, Mr President. Mr President, your Honours, ladies and gentlemen of the Court, my learned colleagues of the Office of the Prosecutor, my learned colleagues of the Defence, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Registry. 

As you mentioned, your Honour, this is really a high point in the story of this Court and the history of the world. This is an important point that must be properly marked, this second trial before the International Criminal Court. The second series of proceedings – to put it in a more technical way – has just begun this morning.

Your Honour — your Honours, believe me, this is a great moment, a great moment of hope for the victims who, for more than six years, have been waiting, waiting for justice to be served. They have waited for more than six years so that this Chamber can ensure that international justice will finally allow them to understand.

I represent children who are now young adults, young women. I could speak of young men, young women. Alas, these children are condemned to remain children as long as a process such as this one for which you are responsible does not break the infernal circle that their lives have become. They seek to understand, these young people who were children at the time, they try to understand what happened; because, Mr President, your Honours, Mr Prosecutor, my learned friends, even now today these children do not understand what might have happened. Their childhood was brutally interrupted and they found themselves in hell, from one day to the next. As you know, I represent children who were abducted; and even today, they do not understand what happened. How? Why? Why were these things done to them? Why were they forced to do things? How was it all possible?

It is important to understand, to understand this complex game, the interaction of actions and responsibilities of all parties, Mr President. Your Honours, they seek recognition, recognition of the terrible extent of the damage, the harm done. They seek recognition of the victims and what happened to them, the specific details, the experience they endured.

You have done an excellent job of stressing these points in your ruling when you created two separate groups of victims; thus, avoiding any confusion and any possible conflict of interest. You have these people who lost a spouse, or a family member or a child, people who have lost a limb, two limbs. This is what we’re talking about today, your Honour.

Just yesterday you said, and I will quote — you used an expression that was really extremely suitable. You said, “We are not talking about disembodied legal experts.” We will not be talking about such things. We are not going to be talking about disembodied victims. So we seek understanding and recognition, understanding and recognition, the suffering, the madness that these victims found themselves plunged into. Physical suffering, of course. Mental suffering, no doubt. Psychological harm, the worst of all, no doubt.

I was speaking of the abduction and the imprisonment of these very young men and women who I was able to meet in the field, and I saw to what extent they were harmed, how their suffering continued, their feelings of regret, their remorse, their feelings of guilt. No matter how unfair things may have been, the child soldiers that I represent, your Honours, my learned friends, committed terrible acts. They followed orders, and not orders from just anyone. They are the children who did what they were told to do. It was not good what they were told to do. They think about what they did during the day, and they dream of the events at night. For them, the nightmare is at sleep — while they sleep, but also when they wake up.

Mr President, your Honours, we have to see these people. We call them “victims,” which is a bit of a euphemism in some ways. They are victims. That is the terminology of the international legislation. But we must see these men and these women, who are miserable, unable to understand what a normal life is like, tormented by images, images from a province of — in Ituri, in a remote part of the world, a region marked by suffering and savagery.

The region was prosperous. The children were happy. We must acknowledge this. We must reiterate this. The use of child soldiers is not part of the African culture, be it in the Congo, be it in the western — eastern province in the Ituri district. But no one took responsibility. No one — the responsibility for abducting children, transforming them into soldiers, enrolling them in armed groups, using them as the vanguard troops for the butchery of Bogoro.

You have heard the excellent opening remarks made by the Prosecutor and the members of his team. He spoke of the horror, the horrors that occurred, that were carried out without mercy, without pity. In Bogoro, attacks on unarmed civilians — pardon me, attacks by armed soldiers on civilians who were running away. They were in flight. They were stopped. They were killed. The women were raped. And what is worse, some were reduced to the state of sexual slaves. And the children, you know what their fate was.

And then it is clear that there was a plan to wipe out the village of Bogoro. That was the plan, the plan that was carried out scrupulously by the young people who I represent. And I wish to say that I’m honoured to represent them here at this hearing.

Your Honour, ladies and gentlemen, you will hear and you will see during these hearings, and if they hear me the victims will know that — I must say, they no longer believe. They no longer believe. You are here, and this is the moment when we must all take on our responsibilities. The Prosecution, the Defence, and I pay tribute to their college, their determination, and the other representatives of the victims.

On 24 February 2003 was a dark day in Bogoro. The darkest forces of mankind unleashed violence on the village preparing for the attack. They realised they needed child soldiers, the worst combatants. They are feared by professional soldiers. Adults were needed as well, junior officers, officers, commanders, leaders, people to handle logistics. The preparations were long and detailed. Equipment was gathered up in a very effective way, and someone had to be responsible for all of this. Bogoro became a village of martyrs and will go down in the history of horror of our common world.

Today is an important event, and I have no doubt of that. I am quite sure that we will all rise to this occasion and play our respective roles. On behalf of the victims, I wish — and this was the request of the victims, on behalf of the victims, I would like to thank you for carrying out this important task. I would like to thank the Prosecutor. Thank you.

But I cannot neglect, I must say that they still do not understand why only one event has led to charges. I have met with dozens of victims, and many wonder why other events were deemed to be not within the jurisdiction of the Court, for instance. And these other people are — they are talking about what happened to them. They must make an extremely difficult choice. We realise that these matters are very difficult, complex, and we consider the importance of your office’s work.

Taking the events that occurred in Bogoro and dealing with them, I think we all understand this difficult choice that must be made. All the children whom I represent still cannot understand why some matters are within the jurisdiction, others outside, because the people responsible for the events who are still out there, the Ugandan authorities are out there. Why are they not appearing today? Why have they not been charged? None of them have been charged in terms of what they did or what they failed to do.

This de facto immunity that they enjoy — and what’s worse, that we see. We see people in Uganda who were responsible for actions. And the victims I met, the victims I represent, cannot understand this. We can’t understand everything. We can’t see everything. And the Defence, of course, will speak of these absences. Let us take up a simple example.

For example, bandits, thieves, killers asking for acquittal or the indulgence of Judges. If there is an argument that cannot be used, it is the absence of those who could have been brought before the Court and those who should have been brought before the Court, those who should be facing charges, when we consider the complex situation, the extent of the responsibility of the massacre that occurred in Bogoro as it occurred.

Mr President, your Honours, I do not wish to speak for too long. I acknowledge that we lawyers do like to talk. Together, we are working together. And I think we can do this together. We can write a page in an important — an important story, an important page in history of the history of law, and this will strengthen an international framework of law. We will take part in the building of a true common system of law, common to all humanity, because these — this Prosecution leads to a principle, an essential principle; namely, the dignity, the dignity that is due to human beings.

There you have it. On behalf of my clients, this is what I wanted to say today. I do not doubt for a single moment that together we can work towards this goal and deal with this terrible reality. A trial such as this one, if it succeeds, will no doubt have an effect; will have — will serve as a form of teaching.

The arguments that we will be hearing before this Bench, we will see just how much importance you attach to the quality of the proceedings, the dignity, the calmness of the proceedings. This will help those – the people who are there – who still continue living with the horrors, those who must go on living their lives.

No doubt, Mr President, your Honours, this trial will be a great moment of truth, and I do hope will allow us to become aware, in this courtroom or outside it. This trial will allow for a debate, a public debate that is necessary amongst a group of people, within a country that is continuing to rebuild after the cruel wars that were mentioned in the opening remarks by the Prosecutor.

Your Honour, I don’t want to take any more time than that. I’m reviewing my notes, and perhaps I will say one or two essential things.

Your Honours, I think that with the assistance of the parties and the participants, with the contribution, the topnotch contribution of each and every one of us, you will render justice in a fair trial. You will render justice, justice that we see as the very mortar of this building, this group. I speak of humanity, the international community. The international community almost was checked and did not know and did — was not able to intervene and end the abuses and the violence. The political component of the international community failed. And I no doubt — and I doubt not that the legal component of the international community will succeed and all of us in this room will make a contribution towards that success.

I thank you.

PRESIDING JUDGE COTTE: (Interpretation from French) The Court would like to thank you, Counsel Gilissen. Counsel Fidel Luvengika, you now have leave to address the Court.

MR FIDEL: (Legal Representative of the Victims through interpretation from French) Mr President of Trial Chamber II, your Honours, Prosecutor and members of your team, dear learned colleagues of the Defence teams, dear learned colleagues of the common legal representation of victims, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Chamber. It is on behalf of all the people who we represent before this distinguished Court, including children, women and men who have been victims, as stated in the preamble of the Rome Statute, of unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity that we allow ourselves to take the floor before you.

Presiding Judge, your Honours, this great day has been awaited anxiously by the victims which, since February 2003, who had — since then had lost all hope and no longer knew which way to turn. However, they have found a glimmer of hope, based on the conclusion of investigations carried out by the Court for three years. The victims know that judicial procedures are often lengthy and that it is only at the end of the proceedings which will take place before you that a verdict will be handed down and that justice will be rendered.

Most of the victims would have wished to be present here at the court, to be able to take part in the debate, to be able to express what they have experienced and suffered, because that is of great importance for them. They regret that these proceedings have to be held more than 8,000 kilometres from them and from the site of the crimes of which they have been victims, but they do trust in justice and, in particular, in this justice that your Chamber, Mr President, is called upon to render.

This trial which is opening today has great importance to the victims for several reasons. It helps them to carry out their mourning, to know the truth, and to establish the responsibility to finish impunity, and put an end to the cycle of violence, and to obtain reparations.

Now, with regards to the mourning. Most of the victims live as internally displaced persons within their own region in the DRC. Some of them, traumatised by the events, have not returned to Bogoro or to the neighbouring areas where they used to live and so, outside what has happened, they do not know how — what happened to their families. They do not know the way in which they were killed and if they were buried. They have not had any kind of support or guidance to overcome their trauma and to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones. As such, they hope that the proceedings which will take place before this Court will make it possible for them to understand what really happened and to help them with this mourning, to rebuild themselves once again and to have their dignity restored.

Truth. For victims, seeking the truth through this trial is essential to come to terms with what happened, but also for reconciliation, make it possible to build a future, a future based on a peaceful co-existence of communities, on bases which guarantee the eradication of cycles of violence which have caused bereavement in the region of Ituri. But what truth are we talking about, that of the manipulation of ethnic communities by warlords for these wars? Or those of the major powers and multi-national companies who, due to their coveting the richness of the region, have managed to create warlords and, through this, they have also become victims?

Responsibility. Whatever the facts, they are there. The village of Bogoro and others were razed to the ground. The villagers were killed. Children, women, the elderly, children, were raped, reduced to sexual slavery. Their houses were pillaged, destroyed. Cattle were stolen. Fields were destroyed. There’s a long list. The Office of the Prosecutor has shown a demonstration of all the atrocities which these victims have had to undergo.

Victims have lost everything. This is not due to a natural disaster but as a result of human actions. The victims are convinced that these are acts committed by the FNI and the FRPI, and perhaps others. They expect the Chamber to establish responsibilities and that those responsible must respond for their acts.

Impunity. The victims hope that this Court, through its action, through the justice that it shall render, will help to break the spiral of violence, the mindset of lawlessness and vengeance which has been reigning in Ituri and which are borne of rampant impunity in the region. This impunity often leads to the creation of new warlords, all convinced that war will give them leverage in negotiations for political and other posts. In a context where justice by the state has lost all credibility for lack of jurisdiction, capacity and autonomy, justice will be administered by this Chamber. That is the last resort for the victims, who are determined to see that the crimes do not go unpunished.

Reparations. After the establishment of the truth and of responsibilities, the victims expect from this Court that it will assist them to have their dignity restored and that they receive reparations.

The common legal representation team of the main group of victims dares to hope that the minimum demands that the trial needs to satisfy to comply with the rights of a fair trial for victims be respected and they should be taken into account for the entire duration of the trial.

Thank you.