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Lack of Appeal in Katanga is Unjust, Victims’ Lawyers Say

Notice by the prosecution and defense to the Appeals Chamber at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that neither party would be pursuing an appeal in the case against Germain Katanga provoked strong disagreement among the legal representatives for victims in the case.

Trial Chamber II, by a majority, convicted Katanga of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by an armed militia during a February 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The majority sentenced him to 12 years of imprisonment, to be reduced by the time he has been in detention during trial.

The legal representative for the “general” victims asserted that the prosecution did not consult him about its decision to drop the appeal. The legal representative claimed that he would never have agreed to such a decision, as it would have been unethical and contrary to his professional obligations.

In a press statement, the Prosecutor claimed that the “representatives of the victims have been duly informed. They have confirmed the importance for the victims of seeing the crimes and the guilt of Germain Katanga acknowledged with finality.”

However, the legal representative for general victims denied that he had been told about the decision or agreed to it and claimed the prosecution’s statement was a breach of good faith. In particular, the Prosecutor’s statement undermined the legal representative’s professional integrity and gave the suggestion his independence had been compromised.

He said that the victims wished to formally express their “astonishment, confusion, disappointment and most profound disagreement with the decision of the Prosecutor.”

The legal representative for victims also noted the prevalence of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war in the DRC and argued that pursuing these crimes and developing relevant jurisprudence was a critical aspect of the prosecution’s mandate.  Furthermore, the legal representative argued, many of his clients and their families suffered sexual violence committed during the attack on Bogoro. These victims will never see justice, he argued.

The legal representative for child soldiers shared these views. He denied being included in or knowing about discussions on dropping the appeal. He said that his young clients felt betrayed by the Prosecutor’s decision to drop the appeal.

In response to these complaints, the prosecution said that it had told the legal representatives for both groups of victims about the decision to drop the appeal the day before that notice was filed with the chamber. The prosecution said that at no point during these conversations did the legal representatives express any concern or objections. Indeed, according to the prosecution, the legal representative for child soldiers expressed satisfaction that the case would be brought to a final conclusion.

The prosecution said that it acted in good faith and accurately represented what it believed to be the views of the legal representatives for victims in its public statements. Moreover, the prosecution emphasized, it took the victims’ interests into account in reaching its decision to drop the appeal.