Views from Ituri: Lack of Compensation or Assistance for the Victims of Nyankunde

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.

Hundreds of victims in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) say that they feel abandoned and discouraged because of the lack of assistance in the village of Nyankunde, which was completely destroyed in the attack of September 2002 that caused the death of thousands of people and the displacement of many other thousands.

The Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), established by Thomas Lubanga, and the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), established by Germain Katanga, confronted each other in Nyankunde [45 km south of Bunia] on September 5, 2002. The FRPI attacks targeted, among others, the Nyankunde Medical Center, an important hospital serving the entire Eastern region of the DRC.

According to the information gathered by churches and non-governmental organizations, thousands of people died in Nyankunde. Thousands of others fled and were displaced to other locations in Ituri, or to the sister province of North-Kivu, or Uganda. The hospital, as well as several schools and homes, were destroyed. Other serious crimes, including rapes, were also committed.

About 100 people, who suffered damages during the attack of Nyankunde, claim that they have never received any assistance. They are unaware of the existence of the Trust Fund for Victims created by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“I lost my father. There are many orphans, raped girls and women, dead people, killed in the hospital, etc. But we do not know how to reach the ICC. The victims are silent; we do not know which way to turn,” said one of the victims to our reporters and facilitators during their visit to Nyankunde last December.

“Among us, the women, many suffer from fistulas while others are still traumatized. People do not know about the Fund [for Victims]. I have never heard about it, only about the ICC,” said a woman of the victim community.

“The Bible says that failure to act must be punished. He [Germain Katanga] must also be prosecuted for the crimes committed here and provide reparation,” said the President of the Youth Association in Nyankunde.

“Reparations in Nyankunde will bring back all the ethnic groups that have fled, to live together in this center that is a central African landmark for medical training and health care,” said Jean-Luc Simbiliabo, the Director of the Gospel and Reconciliation Radio TV, an initiative to bring together the various tribes – mostly Hema and Ngiti – living in Nyankunde.

The victims of Nyankunde have not been eligible to participate in or obtain reparations from the Katanga and Lubanga cases. Therefore, these people who have been the victims of serious crimes cannot take action or benefit from the reparations in the ICC cases because the crimes they have suffered have not been included as charges against Katanga or Lubanga.

“We went to Nyankunde several times. Of course, the crimes committed there fall under the court’s jurisdiction, but the court deemed that it was in Bogoro that serious atrocities took place on February 24, 2003 [in the case against Germain Katanga]. People lost a lot of property there. And as for the lawsuit against Thomas Lubanga, it concerned more the recruitment and participation in hostilities of children under 15 years of age,” said Mike Makangu, the Victims’ Reparations and Participation representative with the ICC.

Indeed, although serious crimes have been committed in several localities in the DRC, the ICC prosecutor made a choice on which crimes to prosecute, since the court does not have the capacity to prosecute all crimes committed on the Congolese territory.

“I believe that if the Court [has not granted reparations], we can do it at a national level,” concluded Makangu. As for the ICC, although the victims of Nyankunde cannot obtain reparations in relation to the cases before this court, the Trust Fund for Victims could provide some assistance to them. So far, the Fund has not taken action in Nyankunde.

According to the victims, many people became discouraged, since several organizations offered reparations, but nobody followed up.

As for the Congolese leaders, they claim that the state does not have sufficient resources to take action in Nyankunde.

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