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Views from Ituri: A Resurgence of Violence Could Delay Reparations Proceedings for the Crimes Committed by Bosco Ntaganda

Our partner Radio Canal Révélation, a radio station based in Bunia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), prepared this article as part of an interactive radio project on justice and peace, which encourages debate on issues related to justice in the DRC.

Growing insecurity in the Ituri province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could seriously affect reparations proceedings in the case against Bosco Ntaganda, according to civil society organizations.  Reports estimate that more than 600 civilians have died since the start of the year. The army itself confirms it has killed almost 300 active militiamen in the region.

“The current state of insecurity will not facilitate the work of the experts and all those involved in the reparations proceedings. The victims are moving about, which means that victims will have to be identified in new locations. All this will have an impact on the timeline” Xavier Macky explained, the director of Justice-Plus, a human rights  organization in Ituri.

Apart from the problems caused by the displacement of people in Ituri, Macky alluded to the probability that militiamen active in the region may have killed  victims.

According to a report published by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in May 2020, the increase in violence in the Ituri province has caused a new wave of displacement, with 200,000 persons forced from their homes.  The recent displacement comes after armed groups destroyed villages and health centers.

In its report, MSF states that, “Ordinary people are the main victims of the fighting between militias, the national army, and other armed groups.” Villagers, including families, are often the targets of attacks. The report tells the story of an infant, aged 15 months, who was being carried on his mother’s back when she was shot.

“The bullet passed through the boy’s legs and killed his mother. He was brought to Drodro general hospital by neighbors. Both his parents were killed in the attack, along with his three sisters and three brothers. Of his whole family, only one brother survived after he managed to escape into the bush” explains Diop El Haji, MSF’s medical team leader.

In June 4, 2020 statement, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) declared herself deeply concerned by this violence, which she called serious, in the areas of Djugu and Mahagi.

“Credible information indicates there have been many armed attacks on the civilian population. In recent months, these attacks have intensified in several territories in Ituri. There are also reports from the same source of repeated attacks on camps for internally displaced persons and targeted communities. Moreover, these reports indicate the killing and maiming of many civilians, many of whom are children; abductions and summary or extrajudicial executions; sexual and gender-based crimes against women, under-age girls, and men; systematic pillaging; and the burning and destruction of homes, private property and public buildings,” Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in her statement.

Proceedings Already Impacted by the Effects of COVID-19

In April 2020, parties to the Ntaganda case before the ICC mentioned the fact that measures put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic could affect the pace of reparations proceedings in the case.

According to the court’s Registry, measures taken in response to COVID-19 are likely to have a significant negative impact on its ability to travel to relevant areas in the DRC to register potential new applicants for reparations. In its April 21 submissions, the Registry said that field activities in the DRC and Uganda involving direct interaction with victims, partners, and leaders are on hold due to travel restrictions in those countries.

At the end of May, the ICC appointed four experts to advise on the nature and scope of reparations in the Ntaganda case. The selected experts must provide a report to judges by August 28, 2020.

For analysts in Ituri, the current situation could hamper the compilation of a quality report on reparations. Therefore, the timeline should be reviewed.

“The pandemic which has hit the world has not spared Ituri. The slower pace of work for all partners involved in the project is impacting victims’ daily lives. Added to that is the violence affecting the areas where they live. In my opinion, the timeline for reparations activities should be reviewed,” said Marie Pacuryema, regional coordinator of the National Human Rights Committee.