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18 years after the Rome Statute came into force: What has the International Criminal Court achieved in Ituri?

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.

Young people from Ituri shared mixed views on the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the occasion of the World Day for International Justice, observed on 17 July, the day of the adoption of the Rome Statute. Radio Canal Révélation broadcasted a program called “Youth and perspectives on the ICC” where participants acknowledged the significant progress made overall, while pointing out shortcomings in the prosecution of serious crimes in Ituri and the lack of reparations for victims, including for crimes committed by Bosco Ntaganda.

Some commented on the lack of deterrent effect with a youth leader from Bunia stating, “The court started to work in 2002, three years after the 1999 conflicts and massacres. Unfortunately, the atrocities have resumed. So our view of the ICC is negative.”

For others, the ICC has helped to prevent crimes and hence their assessment is positive. “The ICC has arrested warlords. They have been tried and have served their sentence. They will not go back to their old ways. Many are afraid of committing crimes,” a young participant said.

Yet others highlighted its strengths and weaknesses. “For me it is evenly balanced. The court has helped to deter criminals, but the ICC cannot do it all because national jurisdictions take precedence,” explained Gloire Abasi, a young activist.

Experts also expressed their views. From their point of view, the results are mixed but the responsibility is shared.

“When a person is 22 years old, they are mature enough to go to university.” If you look at the court in that light, you can say it has not achieved anything. However, that is not the case. Generally speaking, regarding the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) there have been several cases:  Germain Katanga, Thomas Lubanga and Bosco Ntaganda. But we have to remember that the court does not just deal with the DRC. Having said that, the record is mixed because it has not handled many cases. But the court is not there to take up all cases. It has complementary jurisdiction. The prosecution of crimes comes primarily under national jurisdiction […] In order for the court to intervene, it has to find that there is no will to prosecute crimes at the state level, or that the state does not have the capacity to do so,” explained judge Xavier Macky, director of the non-governmental organization Justice Plus.

He continued: “Regarding the abuses that take place in Ituri, in June you heard the ICC prosecutor who alerted all warlords and appealed to the Congolese state to intensify its efforts to ensure that investigations are carried out; she stated that she is monitoring the situation with the utmost attention and that she could dispatch her team.”

Young people are concerned that some individuals were released while the victims of the crimes they committed had not yet received reparations. They fear this could be the case with Bosco Ntaganda.

“Thomas Lubanga was convicted and he has served a prison sentence of 14 years. He chose to serve the latter part of his sentence in the DRC. Germain Katanga was sentenced to 12 years in prison and he saw his sentence cut as provided for by the [Rome] Statute. He is in Ituri at the moment, on a mission assigned to him by the President of the Republic. This is someone who used to be a warlord and today he is working with us to encourage CODECO [Coopérative pour le développement du Congo – Cooperative for the Development of the Congo] to lay down its arms. Prison can also help to rehabilitate individuals.

“The Ntaganda case is at the appeal stage. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused some delays. However, there have been several decisions on reparations. Not all is lost,” explained judge Macky.

In fact, according to this international crimes expert, we should be pleased with the court’s work because it has produced tangible results.

At another event, namely a press gathering organized by Radio Canal Révélation, some young people complained that the ICC targets Africans. “The court has arrested, tried and convicted Africans. Aren’t there any serious crimes committed in Europe?” a young law student asked.

“That is not true. In 2017, I was able to share my experience in a European country, in Georgia, a country near Russia, where the prosecutor has opened an investigation. This is an example which confirms that it is not just Africans who face proceedings before the ICC,” judge Macky said.

“The ICC is also investigating crimes in Afghanistan and is carrying out preliminary examinations in other continents. So it is not just Africa that is in the crosshairs. The reason why there are a lot of investigations in Africa is because the justice systems do not work very well. I have always said, ‘The best way to put the ICC out of business is to organize your own judicial system to operate in an effective and fair manner,’” said in turn Nicolas Kuyaku, ICC outreach officer based in Ituri.

Finally, young people from Ituri made recommendations to the ICC:

“After 22 years, the ICC should resolve the problem of delays in dealing with cases so the victims can be awarded reparations within a short period of time,” said a young woman from the Association des Jeunes Intègres du Congo.

“I would like to see the ICC have greater presence in the countries where it is carrying out investigations. Likewise, since it is at too great a distance from the victims, I recommend it considers in situ hearings,” said someone else.

Others wished “that the ICC had offices everywhere.” In their view, a more significant presence could help the court have a greater impact. In addition, some expressed the wish that the Court “became autonomous” as in having its own police force and  not dependent on support from national governments or the United Nations to carry out investigations and perform its duties.