On Oct. 6, a panel of three appeals chamber judges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) heard submissions on whether Germain Katanga should be released early from imprisonment.
Katanga is the former leader of an armed militia that became known as the Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI, Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri). In March 2014, Katanga was convicted for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during a February 2003 attack on Bogoro in in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in May 2014.
Although he was sentenced just over a year ago, Katanga has already served two-thirds of his sentence, having been in detention at the ICC since 2007, awaiting the conclusion of his trial. When a convicted person has served two-thirds of his sentence, the court must review the sentence to decide whether it should be reduced. This is the second time ICC judges have considered a sentence reduction. Earlier this year, ICC judges considered, and denied, a sentence reduction for Thomas Lubanga.
Katanga decided not to appeal his judgment, accepting the ICC’s verdict and sentence. In accepting his sentence, Katanga expressed remorse for his actions and the pain they caused victims. According to the defense and prosecution, this demonstrates a genuine dissociation for his crimes, one of the factors judges will weigh in reviewing his sentence. The prosecution specifically emphasized Katanga’s acceptance of responsibility for his crimes as an important issue to consider. However, the legal representative for victims argued that Katanga has never truly shown remorse for the victims in Bogoro. The legal representative for victims also accused Katanga of deceit, arguing that his behavior and statements were strategic and insincere.
Both the defense and prosecution also noted that it was likely Katanga would be easily resettled and resocialized in Ituri if he is released. The defense told judges that Katanga plans to farm in Aru, in Ituri, or to attend a local university. According to the prosecution, Katanga’s potential family and community support in reintegrating are positive factors the judges should consider.
However, the prosecution also said that according to DRC government submissions in the case, there is an open criminal case pending against Katanga in domestic military courts on charges of killing nine peacekeepers. The victims’ lawyer also noted that regardless of what Katanga claims he will do upon his release, the court cannot impose conditions once he is released.
The defense and prosecution also agree that there is little chance that Katanga’s early release would lead to significant social instability in the region. According to the defense, there has been a profound reconciliation between the Hema and Lendu communities—whose conflict was a purported cause of the crimes committed in Bogoro. However, the victims’ lawyer says that the reconciliation is weak and Katanga’s release could reignite tensions and conflict in the region. According to the prosecution, the DRC government has also indicated that his return would likely exacerbate the frustrations of affected communities. However, on the whole, the prosecution argued, it does not appear that his release would lead to significant social instability.
According to the legal representative for victims, Katanga’s early release would re-traumatize victims in Bogoro. The defense submitted that victims were angry at the 12-year sentence, and are now upset that it may be further reduced. However, this is not a factor that should weigh heavily against his release, the defense said. Further, the defense argued that the victims’ understandable frustration with the slow reparations process should not be conflated with significant instability due to an early release.
Katanga also addressed the judges. “When an accused person is found guilty, his very value as a human being collapses and his credibility and his word suffer as a result,” he began. But, he said, “My words come from the bottom of my heart. It is a reflection of my deepest conviction. […] In the course of the trial, I had to come to terms with the role that I personally played in the attack on Bogoro as well as with the degree or scope of suffering inflicted on the victims of that attack.” The pain expressed by the victims “has profoundly affected me,” Katanga told the judges.
“I have heard their cries of pain and suffering with deep respect. Suffering inflicted upon the victims is real. I have already acknowledged that. I have expressed my regrets for that before. I am once again expressing my regrets today. This is something that I will never take lightly. I would like to reassure you, and along with you, all the victims, of the sincerity of my regrets and of the sadness that I feel. This is something that I can only express through my words,” Katanga said.
The judges will deliberate the submissions of the parties and render their decision in the coming weeks.