Congo Watch: DR Congo: Calls for LRA to face Congo charges

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DR Congo: Calls for LRA to face Congo charges

Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
Date: 18 Nov 2009 (via ReliefWeb)
DR Congo: Calls for LRA to face Congo charges
Campaigners want ICC to indict Ugandan rebels for crimes they are alleged to have committed in DRC.
By Melanie Gouby in the Hague and Gabriel Shabani in Kinshasa (AR No 236, 18-Nov-09)
Human rights activists are calling on the International Criminal Court, ICC, to charge the Lord's Resistance Army leaders with a series of brutal crimes they are accused of perpetrating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

LRA leader Joseph Kony and two others are wanted by the ICC for war crimes in northern Uganda. However, the LRA moved into the DRC in 2005 and since 2008 has staged raids across the northeast – reportedly raping, abducting and burning villages in retaliation for attacks by the Ugandan army. They have also alleged to have committed crimes against civilians in the Central African Republic, CAR, and Sudan.

One of the most recent attacks took place on September 25 in Digba, DRC, where 22 people were killed with machetes and knives in a raid carried out by over 40 members of the LRA, according to the Agence France Presse.

A leading Congolese human rights activist says the crimes committed in DRC should be added to the indictment against the LRA. Kony, Vincent Otti, Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odiambo and Dominic Ongwen were charged with crimes against humanity five years ago. Lukwiya and Otti have since been killed.

"The crimes committed by Kony's troops in the DRC correspond to the description of international crimes punishable by the ICC. Therefore they must not be left aside. Kony and the other leaders have not been arrested yet and the case has not moved forward, thus [the ICC] has plenty of time to add new charges," said Delly Mawazo Sesete, executive director of Goma-based Creddho.

Elise Keppler, senior counsel at Human Right Watch, echoed Mawazo's call for additional charges against the LRA leaders.

"In order to see justice done it is vital that there be prosecution for the crimes committed in the DRC in addition to the crimes committed in northern Uganda," she said. "Human Right Watch has urged the ICC to look closely at the crimes that have been committed in the DRC, and if the evidence meets the necessary threshold to add charges or to issue arrest warrant for additional persons."

The LRA was formed in 1987 and claimed to represent the Acholi people of northern Uganda against President Yoweri Museveni. Fighters are said to have mutilated victims by cutting body parts such as noses, ears or lips. They are also believed to have abducted over 20,000 civilians, many of them children, to use them as soldiers.

Between 2005 and 2008, the violence diminished as the LRA took refuge around Garamba national park in the DRC. But in 2008, as peace negotiations with the Ugandan government failed, Kony called for his men to take up arms and atrocities began again in the northeast.

A coordinated offensive by the Ugandan, Congolese and Sudanese forces merely scattered the fighters across the region.

ICC rules say it is possible for prosecutors to add new charges against the LRA with article 58.6 of its founding Rome Statute stating, "The prosecutor may request the pre-trial chamber to amend the warrant of arrest by modifying or adding to the crimes specified therein. The pre-trial chamber shall so amend the warrant if it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person committed the modified or additional crimes."

But that doesn't seem likely to happen soon. A representative of the ICC's office of the prosecutor told IWPR that arresting Kony and the others is the court's priority, not adding new charges to the existing indictments.

"Too much time has been wasted and the reason why crimes are continuing is the lack of arrest of persons for whom arrest warrants were issued in 2005," Emeric Rogier said.

"The highest priority for the office of the prosecutor, and for all those seeking to put an end to continuing LRA crimes, needs to be the arrest of the three top commanders of the LRA for whom arrest warrants have been outstanding for more than four years now."

However, Rogier said the ICC has investigated alleged LRA crimes in DRC.

"In the last 18 months, this office collected information, including victim and insider witness testimony, which indicates that, following orders by Joseph Kony to begin a new abduction campaign, there have been more than 2,000 abductions, more than 1,250 killings and well in excess of 300,000 people displaced in DRC, Sudan and CAR," he said.

The Congolese government also believes the arrest of Kony should be the top priority.

"For everything that occurred after the arrest warrant was issued, we must take into account that the court will be able to add these new developments when the arrest is made. The prosecutor will be able to add them to his indictment," said Lambert Mendé, the DRC minister of communication.

Mendé estimates the number of LRA fighters in DRC at 150-200 though others suggest the figure is closer to 1,000.

Keppler says new charges are important for the victims of the LRA.

"Currently there are Ugandan victims' communities represented by the existing charges. Communities in the DRC are not incorporated into the charges for the crimes that currently exist," she said. "Insuring that justice is done includes having a sense of redress for the victims, which will not be possible where there is no representation of the kind of crimes committed in the DRC."

Mariana Goetz from the NGO Redress, which works with torture victims, agrees that DRC-related charges should be added to the ICC case against the LRA.

"For the victims, it is important that justice publicly acknowledge their sufferings," Goetz said.

Melanie Gouby is an IWPR reporter in the Hague. Gabriel Shabani is a Kinshasa-based journalist who produces IWPR's Facing Justice radio programme.

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