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Defense Lawyers Ask ICC Appeals Judges to Reduce Katanga’s Financial Liability in Reparations

Lawyers for former Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga have petitioned International Criminal Court (ICC) appeals judges to reduce the US$1 million order of reparations the former militia commander received earlier this year. They claim Katanga lacks the ability to pay and that the amount does not fairly reflect the role he played in the crimes for which he was convicted.

Katanga, a former leader of an armed militia that became known as the Force de Résistance Patriotique en Ituri (Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri), was convicted in March 2014 of being an accessory to war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from a February 2003 attack on civilians in Bogoro village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Earlier this year, judges ordered awards for reparations to 297 victims of his crimes, totaling US$1 million, consisting of an individual symbolic compensation award of US$250 per victim and four collective awards in the form of housing assistance, education assistance, income-generating activities, and psychological rehabilitation.

Defense lawyers have appealed, asking for Katanga’s financial liability to be reduced. They are also asking appeals judges to limit compensation for the loss of a relative to those who lost close relatives, and want awards related to loss of cattle and crops to be quashed.

According to defense lawyer David Hooper, while the defense appreciates the difficulty in quantifying damages for human rights violations, the amount of US$1 million is excessive in light of Katanga’s circumstances, responsibilities, and culpability. Hooper notes that Trial Chamber II established Katanga’s liability on his awareness, but not his intent, that the crimes would be committed. Moreover, adds Hooper, Katanga did not order, command, or lead the attack. Per his reparations appeal, Katanga “played a subsidiary background role and was neither present at the attack, nor led or supervised those who were present.”

The defense also raises the issue of Katanga’s indigence, arguing that it would be unfair and unjust to place a financial burden on someone who lacks the means to meet it. Such an order would hang over Katanga for the rest of his life, with the “immense” reparations award perceived as reflecting his culpability in the crimes.

However, lawyers representing victims have opposed all the defense’s grounds of appeal. In their own appeals, the victims’ lawyers challenge the reparation order for failing to make a finding of transgenerational harm in relation to five applicants who were born after the February 24, 2003 Bogoro attack. They argue that judges committed an error of law in their application of the relevant standard of proof to the applications that claimed transgenerational harm, and failed to take into account all the evidence pertaining to those applications.

In his submission, victims’ lawyer Fidel Nsita Luvengika argues that in most legal systems, the financial situation of the convicted person does not play a part in determining that person’s liability regarding reparations for harm caused. Indigence becomes a factor when it comes to implementing the decision awarding compensation and when the convicted person cannot pay the compensation in whole or in part, he says.

In her submission, legal representative of victims Paolina Massidda concurs with Luvengika that judges misapplied the standard of proof in relation to transgenerational harm. She said judges’ failure to take into account all evidence before them and their failure to provide adequate reasoning for the rejection of reparations claims based on transgenerational harm affects the fairness and reliability of the reparations decision.

Defense lawyers also fault trial judges for ordering compensation in respect of material harm relating to loss, which they feel was insufficiently proven. Accordingly, they have asked the appeals chamber to quash some awards for lost cattle and crops. They also argue that trial judges erred in allocating a minimum amount to all the applicants who claimed the loss of cattle and demonstrated the loss of a house, even if the applicants alleged a loss of cattle whose value was lower than the minimum defined by the judges.

Furthermore, the defense argues that the trial chamber erred in giving too broad an interpretation of a parent whose death warrants reparations to the remaining children. Hooper says that in the reparations order, judges allow compensation to any individual victim for the death of any remote family member who died at Bogoro, be it a close or more distant family member.