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International Court’s First Murder Trial Focuses on Congo


Africa News
Nov 23, 2009

The Hague – Two former rebel leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo are set to be the first people ever to stand trial for murder before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Only the second case ever to be tried by the ICC, the proceedings starting Tuesday are to see the participation of hundreds of victims against two men – former DR Congolese rebel leaders Germaine Katanga, 31, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, 39, both of the Lendu tribe – accused of having orchestrated the killing of several hundred civilians from the village of Bogoro in 2003.

Bogoro is located in Ituri, a district in the north-east of DR Congo. At the time of the alleged crimes, an ethnic conflict was raging there between the Hema and Lendu tribes.

Between January 2002 and December 2003, more than 8,000 civilians died in Ituri. More than 500,000 people were displaced.

On February 24, 2003, Lendu militias and cooperating paramilitary groups allegedly attacked the Hema-populated village of Bogoro, killing, plundering and raping around 200 civilians.

Survivors were allegedly imprisoned in a building filled with bodies. Women were abducted and sexually enslaved. The Ituri Patriotic Resistance Forces (FRPI) – established by the Ngiti tribe that allied itself with the Lendu – allegedly pillaged and razed the village.

Katanga, who allegedly commanded the FRPI and Ngudjolo Chui, alleged commander of the Lendu Nationalist Integrationist Front (FNI), are charged with three counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of war crimes, including willful killing.

They are alleged to have committed these crimes via orders to their subordinates.

The two former army commanders are also accused of having used child soldiers – defined as a war crime under the Statute of Rome, the ICC’s founding document.

A total of 345 victims are also participating in the trial, represented by two lawyers, Fidel Nsita Luvengika and Jean-Louis Gilissen.

In the first ICC trial, which started in January against alleged war criminal former DR Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga, lawyers are representing a total of 93 victims.

French-born judge Bruno Cotte, Malinese judge Fatoumata Dembele Diarra and Belgian judge Christine Van den Wyngaert are expected to take several months for the Katanga-Ngudjilo Chui trial.

Arrested and transferred to the Netherlands on October 17, 2007, Katanga, who has rejected all charges, first appeared in court on October 22, 2007.

Ngudjolo Chui was arrested and transferred to the ICC on February 7, 2008. His case was joined with that of Katanga on March 10, 2008.

The Katanga-Ngudjolo Chui case is the second case ever to be tried by the ICC. Both cases it has tried so far stem from investigations into conflicts in the DR Congo. It will be the court’s first murder case.

A fourth Congo war crimes suspect, Bosco Ntaganda, military chief of staff of the DR Congolese militia National Congress of the Defense of the People (CNDP), remains at large after a warrant for his arrest was issued on August 22, 2006.

In 1994, ethnic conflict erupted in the former Belgian colony of the DR Congo when rebels crossed the border following the genocide in Rwanda. The war formally ended in 2003, but fighting continues in the east of the country.

The ICC, an independent, permanent court founded in 1998 and working in cooperation with the United Nations, aims to prosecute the most serious war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since it began operating in 2002, it has investigated war crimes and crimes against humanity in the DR Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Darfur.



THE HAGUE — Lawyers for two Congolese militiamen accused of seeking to wipe out a village blocking a strategic route in an ethnic war, on Monday welcomed start of their trial in The Hague this week as a step towards “the truth”.

Germain Katanga, 31, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, 39, are to appear before the International Criminal Court on Tuesday.

They stand accused over an attack by their forces on the village of Bogoro in Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern Ituri region that killed 200 people in February 2003.

“We are all seeking the same thing, we are all seeking the truth,” Katanga’s lawyer, Andreas O’Shea, told journalists on Monday, adding that his client “shares and sympathises with the grief of the victims of the war in the DRC.”

The men face ten counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including using child soldiers to murder, maim and pillage.

According to fellow defence lawyer Jean-Pierre Kilenda, co-accused Ngudjolo “is at last happy to … provide the international community with the explanations it has been wanting.”

Ngudjolo, he added, was “also a victim” and had had no part in the alleged crimes. “We are hoping that all the evidence … will be able to ascertain the truth.”

The prosecution says more than 1,000 fighters of Katanga’s Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI) and Ngudjolo’s Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) entered Bogoro on February 24 six years ago “with one communicated and agreed goal: to erase the village”.

Until the attack, the town had been controlled by rival Thomas Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), blocking FRPI and FNI fighters and camps from the road to the key city of Bunia.

“They (militia) killed more than 200 persons,” prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the press conference.

“The women of the Hema community were raped before they were killed. They pillaged the entire village. They kept some women as sex slaves.”

Katanga and Ngudjolo are both of Lendu ethnicity, while the Bogoro inhabitants were mostly Hema.

Non-governmental bodies claim that inter-ethnic and militia violence in Ituri is about control of the area’s gold mines, and has claimed 60,000 lives since 1999.



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