Posts Tagged Congo

The Bemba Trial: Ersatz Justice?

This is a guest post by my good friend and journalist Mélanie Gouby, who is currently in the Kivus, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Being aware of her views on the Bemba Trial, I asked her if she would be willing to write a guest post for The International Jurist to share them and perhaps begin a discussion on the latest ICC trial. She readily accepted, and made time in what I know to be a very busy schedule to write the post in the briefest delays, for which I am very grateful.

You can read more of Mélanie Gouby’s work on her blog, Going with the Wind (Facebook page here), recently nominated in the Best New Blog category for the 2010 Aid Blog Awards. You can also follow her on Twitter @Melaniegouby.

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo at the ICC


The scales of the atrocities committed in central Africa over the last two decades is unmatched by any other conflict since World War Two, if only in the number of deaths. The Democratic Republic of Congo in particular has seen millions of people being massacred, raped, maimed, dying of diseases in insalubrious refugees camps and losing everything that made them human beings. Congo is an ongoing genocide. The reasons to the never-ending violence, devastating in a country already striped to the bones, are numerous. From the conveniently illegal mineral trade to the political factions trying to get their share of power, there is not one solution to end it. But there is one demand that unite all Congolese people: Justice. Read the rest of this entry »


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Is the Prosecutor of the ICC Forced to Play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

No, I am not talking about Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in person, but of the Prosecutor of the ICC as an institution, and by extension of the entire Office of the Prosecutor (informally known as the OTP).

A recent submission by Mr. Callixte Mbarushimana’s lawyer, Mr. Nicholas Kaufman, has once more raised the issue of the neutrality of the Prosecutor, a matter that has been recurrent in submissions to the Court by Defence Counsels for at least the past six months.

Mr. Callixte Mbarushimana, an alleged leader of the Force Démocratique pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), was arrested only a few weeks ago in France, in accordance with a warrant of arrest issued under seal. Mr. Mbarushimana is suspected by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in the Kivus in the DRC in 2009. Following his arrest, both the Registry and the OTP of the ICC issued press releases expressing satisfaction.

It is with the latter that Mr. Mbarushimana’s lawyer takes issue. Read the rest of this entry »

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Good News in the Lubanga Trial: Appeals Decision to be Delivered Next Week

Good news just arrived from the International Criminal Court a few hours ago: the Appeals Chamber is to render its decision in the Lubanga Case next week, on Friday 8 October.

From the ICC’s website:

The Appeals Chamber will deliver its Judgments in the Lubanga case on Friday, 8 October

On Friday, 8 October, 2010, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is scheduled to deliver its Judgments on the Prosecutor’s appeals against Trial Chamber I’s decisions to stay proceedings in the case The Prosecutor v. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, and to release the accused.

The Judgments will be delivered in open court, starting at 2:30 p.m. (The Hague local time). The session will be transmitted with no delay via web streaming on the ICC website:
Courtroom I (English):
Courtroom I (French):
On 8 July, 2010, Trial Chamber I of the ICC ordered to stay the proceedings in the case against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, considering that the fair trial of the accused is no longer possible due to non-implementation of the Chamber’s orders by the Prosecution. The judges had ordered the Office of the Prosecutor to confidentially disclose to the Defence the names and other necessary identifying information, of intermediary 143. Following the decision to stay the proceedings, Trial Chamber I ordered, on 15 July, the release of the accused. According to the judges, an accused cannot be held in preventative custody on a speculative basis, namely that at some stage in the future, the proceedings may be resurrected. The ICC Prosecutor submitted two appeals against these decisions. On 23 July, the Appeals Chamber gave suspensive effect to the Prosecutor’s appeal against the decision to release the accused.

For those who missed what that decision is all about, check my previous post on the Lubanga trial here. I’m looking forward to what the Appeals Chamber will say on this, and the oh-so-suspenseful question: will they release him? The vast majority of people I’ve talked to doubts it, but we’ll only be sure next week.

For professional reasons (not that I mind – far from it), I’ll be attending the hearing live next Friday. So you’ll be reading more about this then…

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What Legal Response To Mass Rape in the Congo?

In October 2007, John Holmes, United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the New York Times:

The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world. The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity – it’s appalling.

It seems as though not much has changed over the last three years.

Last month, civilians were brutally attacked and raped by armed elements of the Mai-Mai and the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to Will F. Cragin, the International Medical Corps’ coordinator for the region, between 200 and 400 men entered the village of Ruvungi and systematically raped more than 150 women. The victims, most of whom were raped by two to six men at a time, were often violated in front of their families.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is understandably outraged by the attacks, and has dispatched Assistant Secretary-General Atul Khare, Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, to the DRC, and has instructed his Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, to take charge of the UN’s response and follow-up to this incident. But will anyone actually be prosecuted for the atrocities? Read the rest of this entry »

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Lubanga’s Release by ICC Trial Chamber I: Good News or Bad News for International Criminal Justice?

ICC LogoAs many of you probably have heard by now, Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court has ordered the release of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in an oral hearing following a decision last week imposing an unconditional stay on the proceedings of the case. Mr. Lubanga is a Congolese warlord who was put on trial in the ICC on charges of war crimes committed in the rich Ituri region of Congo, war crimes related to the enrollment of children in his armed group. Arrested in March 2005, his trial started on 26 January 2009. He is the first accused to face trial before the ICC, and so far it’s looking like it’s heading towards a complete fiasco. The Trial Chamber gave the OTP 5 days before it implemented its decision and Mr. Lubanga can walk free, in order to give the Prosecutor a chance to appeal, which it probably will do (UPDATE: Prosecutor announced that he has appealed).

The issue at hand. So why did the Court decide to stay the proceedings of this case and a few days later order the release of Mr. Lubanga? Apparently, the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) committed a series of procedural irregularities by trying to conceal documents, and in particular the name of a key witness – only known as ‘intermediary 143’, from the defense and the judges, and this despite several orders by the Trial Chamber to release such information.

Clearly, there’s something of a problem when the Prosecutor refuses to abide by the orders of the Chamber. As Kevin Jon Heller writes (in the comments sections): “Prosecutors do not get to ignore court orders.  Period.  If they do, they should be held in contempt and, if the relevant rules provide, removed.

The OTP, for its defense (there’s some irony in there…), claims that it is bound by an “independent statutory obligation” to Protect Witnesses, on the grounds of article 54 of the Rome Statute. According to the OTP’s position, it has a statutory obligation to protect witnesses from foreseeable risk, independently from whether the Chamber itself considers that the circumstances do not pose a risk to the said witness. To which the Chamber answered rather dryly  (from Dov Jacobs’ post): “No criminal court can operate on the basis that whenever it makes an order in a particular area, it is for the Prosecutor to elect whether or not to implement it, depending on his interpretation of his obligations.” (§27).

For a deeper discussion on the validity (or lack thereof) of the OTP’s claim that it is bound by an “independent statutory obligation,” see another one of Kevin Jon Heller’s post at Opinio Juris, where he considers that there is no such obligation.

My expertise in ICC Procedural Rules is still rather limited (hoping that will change in the future), but on principle I have to agree with the Court and Professor Heller. A Prosecutor must obey the Court. End of story, no discussion. Any exception to that rule opens a Pandora’s box that could lead to some serious judicial dysfunctionality.

The difficulty of protecting witnesses in a conflict zone. That being said, I think this situation raises the issue of protecting witnesses within the framework of the recent international criminal justice system that are still located in conflict zones. The purpose of international criminal justice is to bring law and order in lawless and chaotic situations, protecting victims from their tormentors, but as we have observed again and again since the 1990s, there’s only so much Justice can do without the international community’s backings, especially in terms of logistics and soldiers to enforce their decisions. International criminal justice has to make do with this reality, which won’t change anytime in the near future. This gives us the opportunity I believe to reflect a bit further on how far international criminal justice can go to protect its witnesses without causing the trial to be unfair.

How this is also good news for International Criminal Justice. So, how is this a good thing for international criminal justice? On a first approach, it looks bad. The trial of the first accused before the ICC, who was on trial for the past 18 months, is appearing to crash and burn due to errors by the OTP. The Court’s detractors and doubters (and there are many of them out there) will probably have a field day with this.

But there’s also good news involved. As Mark Kersten writes in his blog,

“The decision illustrates the effective working of procedural law at the ICC. (…) This decision flies against popular assertions by the Court’s detractors that it’s a Western, imperial Court meting victor’s justice. The decision to uphold important procedural law at the Court by its judges in the favour of the alleged war criminal severely weakens  claims of victor’s justice.”

There has been a lot of muttering, in Africa and elsewhere, that the International Criminal Court is really the “African Criminal Court”, as it has so far only operated in Africa, and that it is, as Mark mentions, a neo-colonialist or imperialist European-based Court and the latest weapon white men found to dominate the Continent. This decision proves otherwise: the Judges of the ICC are independent, honest and rigorous. They will uphold procedural rules in order to guarantee a fair trial, even at the risk of letting a known warlord walk. And that’s, believe it or not, a very good thing for the credibility of the international criminal justice system.

Fairness is essential for international criminal justice. In the words of Judge Richard Goldstone: “the success of international tribunals will be tested by whether the trials were fair.” (in M. Minow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence (Beacon Press, Boston 1998), p. 26)

What future for ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and Mr. Lubanga? This could put Luis Moreno-Ocampo on the hot seat. After several blunders as Chief Prosecutor, some legal scholars, such as previously mentioned Opinio Juris’ Kevin Jon Heller, are starting to call for his removal by the Assembly of State Parties, as is made possible by article 46 of the Rome Statute. As for Mr. Lubanga, maybe he will be having dinner with Professor William Schabas, while the rest of us hope he will not be going back to Congo and return to his former activities.

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Latest News on Conflict Minerals – Victory in U.S. Congress

After writing about Congo’s conflict minerals and NGOs such as the Enough! Project‘s efforts to alert public opinion, good news recently came out of the United States Congress.

From the Enough! Project’s website:

Today, Congo activists, U.S. consumers, and the people of Congo won an incredible victory against long odds. Congress passed the Wall Street reform bill with the inclusion of a key provision on conflict minerals. The conflict minerals language requires companies that use tin, tungsten, tantalum, or gold in their products to file a disclosure report with the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing whether these materials originated in Congo or its adjoining countries. And thanks to you, the bill requires companies to audit these reports to actually prove whether they are sourcing from conflict mines or not.

While passage of the conflict minerals provision is not a cure-all for completely ending the war in Congo, it is a huge step forward. This new law – once it is signed by President Obama – begins to eliminate the source of funding that allows armed militias to continue to terrorize and humiliate communities, cause countless deaths, and commit widespread sexual violence and rape.

While the fight is not over, activists should be very proud of this impressive victory and deserve to relish in this moment. Across the United States, Congo activists, members of the diaspora, and concerned consumers – the growing movement across America that sees the urgency in ending the world’s deadliest war – rallied around the passage of this legislation. They overran the Facebook pages of elected officials, followed up with phone calls, met face-to-face with their representatives, and called on industry leaders to clean up their supply chain.  Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI), Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA), Howard Berman (D-CA), and Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chairmen Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Barney Frank (D-MA), and many other brave members of Congress also deserve special praise for taking a major step to ending the neglected conflict in eastern Congo. These are just some examples of the creative advocacy that has helped elevate the issue of conflict minerals to reach today’s tipping point.

From the day President Obama signs the bill, the Securities and Exchange Commission will have nine months to promulgate regulations implementing the new law. It will be up to us to ensure that these regulations are as strong as possible. While the jewelry and manufacturing lobbyists were caught off guard by the conflict minerals language and weighed in too late to remove the language, you can be sure industries will fight to make sure the regulations implementing the law are as weak as possible. As this story continues to develop, we’ll be coming to you with new ways of getting engaged. Please stick with us.

Congratulations on today’s exciting victory!

Good news indeed.

A little reminder video on what’s wrong with conflict minerals and consumer electronics:

UPDATE: A nice piece about this in Newsweek: The Genocide Behind Your Smartphone.

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What do PCs and Macs have in common? Blood Components.

Remember the Congo? No? I can’t really blame you, the problems plaguing Africa’s third biggest country have not – as far as I know – made headlines (at least in mainstream media) in a very long time. And yet, there’s been an ongoing conflict there since 1998 that has made, according to the latest reports by the International Rescue Committee approximatively 5 million casualties, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II. In addition to these casualties, the conflict has displaced another million people.

So why talk about it now? It’s a wrong question. The right question would have been: why have we stopped talking about it? But that has changed recently, thanks to New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and the people over at the Center for American Progress’ Enough! Project.

Nicholas Kristof – probably one of the best journalists to be working at the New York Times – has published on 26 June 2010 a column on how our electronic gadgets – whether phones, ipods or computers – fuel the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Apparently, certain components in our electronics come from minerals coming out of Congo and that helps finance the conflict and warlords over there. As Nicholas Kristof writes, ““Blood diamonds” have faded away, but we may now be carrying “blood phones.”

Today, electronic companies such as for example Apple are particularly under the pressure of activists trying to raise awareness on this issue that concerns all of us modern gadget-freaks.

At the tip of the spear of this campaign against tainted electronic manufacturing is the Enough! Project of the Center for American Progress. These people have already been remarkably active on raising awareness of the situation in Sudan and Darfur, and have now turned their sights towards the issue of conflict-fueling electronics components with a campaign baptized “RAISE Hope for Congo.” One part of their campaign is a “spoof” video imitating one of the famous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” Apple commercials. It is definitely worth watching:

This video is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most brilliant campaign broadcast I have ever watched. It gets it message across in a compelling and effective way, using a well-known format (the Apple commercials) to reach the audience in a slightly entertaining (but not too much) way.

Feeling the pressure, Apple’s Steve Jobs has addressed the issue in an email exchange with a concerned customer, claiming that although Apple asks its providers to certify that the minerals are conflict-free, it is impossible to be sure. Of course, the people over at Enough! Project beg to disagree, and sent an email themselves to Steve Jobs (on that matter, I wonder where everybody finds Steve Jobs’ email address. Not that I’ve been looking very hard myself.)

So what is to be done on this issue? As consumers of electronic devices, it is our responsibility to make sure that the gadgets we buy are built with conflict-free components. What was done with blood diamonds a few years ago must be done with gadgets today. See Enough’s Take Action webpage for more ideas.

On his blog, Nicholas Kristof concludes:

My hope is that public pressure will shame the electronics companies into scrubbing their supply chains of blood minerals, providing a bit more pressure that creates some space for a broader peace drive in Congo. And if the price is a penny in the price of a cell phone — sure sounds worth it to me.

I could not agree more.

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