Week in Review: Focus on victims at the International Criminal Court

Week in Review: Focus on victims at the International Criminal Court©ICC
ICC meets affected communities in Bogoro, Ituri, DRC
2 min 12Approximate reading time

Reparations are one of the four pillars of transitional justice (along with truth, justice and the guarantee of non-repetition), and this week the International Criminal Court (ICC) ordered for the first time that some small individual compensation be given to victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

ICC judges decided that 297 direct victims of a 2003 massacre in a Congolese village should each get a “symbolic” 250 dollars. The judges also decided that convicted Congolese militiaman Germain Katanga, who was sentenced in 2014 to 12 years in jail for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity during the attack on that village, should pay one million dollars in reparations for the physical, mental and material damage caused. Katanga’s militia attacked the village of Bogoro, northeast DRC, on February 24, 2003, killing 200 people with guns and machetes. Katanga claims to have no assets, and so it is the Trust Fund for Victims, a body linked to the ICC, which will have to pay the victims’ families in Ituri. The Fund has already put one million of its reserves aside for symbolic collective reparations including memorials in the case of another Congolese militiaman, Thomas Lubanga, who was sentenced in 2012 to 14 years in jail for recruiting child soldiers.

In an interview with JusticeInfo.net, Mariana Pena, legal advisor to the Open Society in The Hague, criticized the slowness of these procedures, saying decisions were hardly being handed down within a “reasonable time period”. “Victims became documents, forms and statistics, forgetting their personalities,” she says. “Cases are limited, they target only a limited number of accused persons, and the charges brought against them are limited to certain crimes. That has an impact for the victims.” But she is not without hope. “Whether justice is rendered before this institution or another, what matters is that it is rendered,” she told JusticeInfo. “We regard international justice as something that goes well beyond the ICC.” 

The case of Enoch Ruhigira

Another important decision this week was by the Prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt, Germany, which finally freed Enoch Ruhigira, former head of presidential staff of late Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, after eight months in detention. Authorities in Kigali had accused Ruhigira of involvement in the 1994 genocide. He was defended by many, including French professor André Guichaoua, and his release appears to be because of the weakness of the case presented by Rwanda. Ruhigira, now 66, was arrested on July 20 last year during a stopover in Frankfurt, under an arrest warrant from Rwandan authorities. The warrant was based on allegations which had already been deemed unfounded by New Zealand, of which Ruhigira is a citizen, and Belgium, where he resided.

“He was released on Monday March 20 with no reasons given,” a source close to the case told JusticeInfo. “At the moment he is still in Germany and expected to return to New Zealand.”

Still in Africa, Mali is having difficulties putting in place a viable reconciliation process, which is due to be sealed on March 27 at a national reconciliation conference. “It is clear that this conference, which is supposed to be a key step, will be taking place in a context where the process of setting up interim authorities is stalled in Timbuktu and Taoudéni (two big towns of the north, previously under control of Islamists),” writes JusticeInfo and its partner Studio Tamani in Bamako. “The huge delays in setting up interim authorities in the North and Centre of Mali are playing into the hands of Jihadism, which is on the increase in recent months.”