Global Policy Forum

ICC Launches First Judicial Proceedings on Congo

March 15, 2005

The International Criminal Court, established in 2002 as the world's first permanent war crimes court, held its first judicial proceedings on Tuesday, with a pre-trial hearing on abuses committed in Congo. The Hague-based court -- backed by almost 100 countries but fiercely opposed by the Unites States -- was set up as the first permanent global criminal court to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and massive human rights abuses.

Judges called the first pre-trial hearing with prosecutors to quiz them about the progress of their investigation into abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo by various groups during a war which has killed some 3 million people. "They wanted to know how the investigation is going and what measures the prosecution has taken to preserve evidence and the situation with regards to the protection of witnesses and victims," a court spokeswoman said.

The pre-trial hearing, the first to be held in the ICC's new wood-panelled court room, was closed to the public. It comes as the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued its last indictment as it aims to meet a deadline to close by 2010. ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told Reuters in an interview in January that investigations in Congo have been hampered by ongoing instability and poor communications, but he should be ready to launch cases within a year.

He said the first accused to appear before the ICC are likely to be from Uganda's rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA), accused of kidnapping 3,000 children to act as fighters, porters and slaves and killing 2,000 people in recent years. Moreno Ocampo has said he wanted to prosecute leaders rather than foot soldiers and might also target companies that had backed rebels in the hope of securing resources. The court, which has yet to issue its first indictment or arrest warrant, can only operate in countries that have signed up to its treaty unless authorised by the U.N. Security Council.

The United States refuses to sign up to the treaty saying it fears its soldiers and officials could be targeted by "frivolous" lawsuits. A U.N. appointed commission has recommended that those accused of abuses committed in Sudan's Darfur region be tried by the ICC but Washington opposes such a referral, fearing it will help legitimise the court that it opposes. Both the Central African Republic and Ivory Coast have also asked the court to investigate crimes in their countries during civil wars and uprisings

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the International Criminal Court
More Information on the Democratic Republic of Congo


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