This article was prepared by our partner Radio Canal Révélation, a radio station based in Bunia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as part of an interactive radio project on justice and peace which encourages a debate on issues related to justice in the DRC. The views conveyed in this article belong to the people interviewed and do not necessarily represent the views of all the community members, or those of the victims.
The inhabitants of Lopa, where Bosco Ntaganda made his headquarters in the Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), are calling for ICC investigations of and reparations for victims in the area. The crimes allegedly committed in Lopa are not the focus of the ICC case against Ntaganda. In fact, for crimes committed on a massive scale, the ICC prosecutor selects a portion of the violations for trial, based on the evidence gathered.
Lopa is a strategic location that controls access to Congolese gold mines and the Ugandan border. It is alleged that Ntaganda was based there and launched several attacks from the village, which attracted reprisals from the opposing military. Residents complain that the international community, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and the International Criminal Court have forgotten them. They feel helpless and fear the perception that they welcomed and assisted Ntaganda, whose presence resulted in violations against the population.
The trial of Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel leader, is currently being held before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. On trial for 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity which were allegedly committed in 2002 and 2003 in eastern DRC, Ntaganda has been testifying in his own defense for several weeks, as part of the presentation of the defense’s case. The prosecutor has already concluded the presentation of the prosecution’s case.
“Bosco and his military staff forcefully occupied the houses of the people living here. During the fight to dislodge the people, the properties were set on fire, everything in the house was destroyed. Many people lost their lives, [including] women, children and young people. Even my family members are dead,” says M.D, the leader of this village, which lies 30km north of the city of Bunia, in the municipality of Bahema Baguru, in Djugu territory.
The inhabitants of the village want the ICC to come to the village to check these allegations, since, according to them, the ICC cannot know what truly happened without visiting.
After Ntaganda was driven from the village, the Armed Forces of the DRC (AFDRC) occupied the same houses for a long time, added M. M., another inhabitant of Lopa. “They found that this location was very strategic for fighting,” another local leader says.
According to another community leader, nothing has been done to rebuild Lopa. “Humanitarian organizations rebuilt schools everywhere, but they haven’t done anything here. The result is that [elementary school] children are being used to rebuild the schools,” he said.
M.D. is another inhabitant of Lopa. He took advantage of our passing through to ask a question to the ICC: “Bosco Ntaganda did not kill here, but he ensured our security. It’s not up to him to compensate [us], he doesn’t have anything anyway. Who will compensate the victims here, in the end?”
Appearing on the Canal Révélation radio station, Nicolas Kuyaku, the ICC’s outreach officer in Ituri, explained that the ICC has not closed its investigations in Ituri. The crimes allegedly committed in Lopa are not part of the crimes with which Ntaganda is charged, but nothing prevents the prosecutor from conducting other investigations and other trials for these acts in the future.
“The victims should be calm. It is not impossible that the victims’ representatives may meet with victims from all over Ituri. The work must be done professionally with the communities, so that the victims may benefit from fair justice,” Kuyaku said.
The ICC’s field office in Ituri has pledged to our reporter David Ramazani to plan a meeting with the inhabitants of Lopa in the near future, to discuss the ICC.