Global Policy Forum

Congo under Increased Pressure from the US to Deliver on Justice




By Linda Gueye

March, 2010

Last year, the new US administration led by President Obama demonstrated an increased interest in the fight against impunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly regarding the Bosco Ntaganda case and the plight of sexual violence in eastern Congo.

The cooperation between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the arrest and transfer of Congolese warlords Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo to The Hague seemed to indicate the country's commitment to cooperate with the ICC.

However, when the Court requested the DRC government to arrest General Bosco Ntaganda, they refused to comply arguing that Ntaganda contributed to bringing peace in the Kivu region in eastern DRC in January 2009.

Bosco Ntaganda, for whom the ICC in August 2006 issued an arrest warrant for war crimes including using child soldiers during the Ituri conflict from 2002 to 2003, is reportedly deputy military commander of the Congolese Army, the FARDC. The government made clear its refusal to arrest Bosco Ntaganda during a press conference in Kinshasa in October 2009, stating that the arrest was "not possible for the time being". The government's position has raised serious concerns among human rights NGOs, the United Nations and the European Union about its commitment to cooperate with the ICC. The ICC itself has not yet issued a public decision with regards to this lack of cooperation.

The most unexpected outcry came from the United States, a non state party to the ICC traditionally known to be wary of the Court.

Howard Wolpe, US Special Advisor for the Great Lakes Region found "inexcusable" the non-transfer of Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC, raising concerns over the adverse effects of Ntaganda's participation in the Congolese army. "We just feel that anybody who has committed war crimes should not participate in military operations... he [Bosco Ntaganda] needs to be held accountable," he explained.

The US position received somewhat mixed reactions. While most Congolese human rights NGOs welcomed  the US call, some believed that the US still needs to set the example by joining the ICC.

"We welcome the US call for Ntaganda's arrest because a US diplomat is likely to be heard by the DRC government," explained Descartes Mponge Malasi, South Kivu Focal Point for the DRC Coalition for the ICC. "This move from the US is positive and indicates the willingness of the new Obama administration to side with international justice even if it's still not an ICC member," added Yuma Malaika Gracia, coordinator of the Women and Children Program for the League for Peace and Human Rights (LIPADHO) in DRC.

However, for Jean Batiste Luthala, political scientist and expert in conflict resolution in the Great Lakes Region, "the US should first sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC before calling for perpetrators like Ntaganda to be sent to this Court."

The call from the US to arrest Bosco Ntaganda followed the visit of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to the eastern region of Congo in August 2009.

While Clinton during her visit welcomed the commitment of the DRC government to fight sexual violence in its country, she called for increased efforts to prosecute those responsible for the commission of sexual violence against women. During a press conference in Goma, Clinton, who spoke out against "the unspeakable violence against women and girls in eastern Congo," called for the prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence. "We believe there should be no impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence committed by so many [and] that there must be arrests and prosecutions and punishment," she insisted.

A South Kivu-based victim of sexual violence who preferred to remain anonymous expressed her hope to see the impact of the US on the prosecution of perpetrators of such acts in Congo. "This visit brings me some relief and I hope that it will help bring those responsible for sexual violence to justice and that we, victims, get reparation - even if it's a symbolic one," she said. "It is almost impossible to repair the damaged caused to my children when they saw me being raped."

The US statements regarding the need for justice in DRC has helped contribute to the international community's increased attention to the Ntaganda case, as well as the plight of sexual violence in Congo - thus putting the DRC government under further pressure to demonstrate its engagement to end impunity.



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