Global Policy Forum

ICC to Probe Congo Crimes in First Investigation


By Emma Thomasson

June 23, 2004

The International Criminal Court has opened its first investigation, into crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo including rape, torture and the use of child soldiers, it said on Wednesday. "The opening of the first investigation of the ICC is a major step forward for international justice," Luis Moreno-Ocampo, ICC chief prosecutor, said in a statement.

Prosecutors will investigate crimes committed in Congo since July 2002 when the court's statutes came into force, noting that thousands of deaths by mass murder and summary execution had been reported in the country since that date. "The reports allege a pattern of rape, torture, forced displacement and the illegal use of child soldiers," they said.

As the first permanent global criminal court, the ICC was set up to try perpetrators for the world's worst atrocities -- genocide, war crimes and systematic human rights abuses.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of more than 90 states to have ratified the court treaty, although dozens of countries, notably the United States, have spurned the court. "This is an enormous milestone in the struggle to limit impunity from mass killings, widespread rape and ethnic cleansing," said Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch. "The recent killings and rapes in eastern Congo underscore the urgent need for a thorough investigation."

After tentative moves towards peace in Congo, fighting has flared again in recent weeks after an uprising in eastern Congo that has stoked fears of a return to more widespread violence in central Africa's Great Lakes region. U.N. officials have blamed militant Hutus, who escaped from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, and rebel groups loyal to Rwanda.


A five-year war in Congo, Africa's third-largest country that is home to more than 50 million people, officially ended less than two years ago after three million people died, mostly through starvation and disease. But sporadic fighting continues.

ICC prosecutors have been watching the situation in Congo, particularly violence in the northeastern Ituri region, since July 2003. Launching a formal investigation was made easier after a referral from the Congolese government in March. Congo President Joseph Kabila asked for a probe into possible war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Dicker said the fact that the ICC's first investigation had come with the cooperation of the Congolese government showed U.S. President George W. Bush was wrong to oppose it. "The start of this investigation underscores just how irrational and ill-conceived the Bush administration's opposition is to the ICC," he said. The United States withdrew a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking an exemption for U.S. soldiers from the ICC on Wednesday because it lacked enough support in the wake of the scandal over U.S. abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine who helped prosecute his country's military junta for crimes committed during its "dirty war", has vowed to prosecute not only the perpetrators of crimes in Congo, but also foreign businessmen and firms who supplied cash or weapons in return for "blood diamonds". He has said crimes linked to Congo's civil war may have been committed as far away as the United States and Canada.

More Information on International Justice
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