Former Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen on Jan. 26 made his first appearance before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The pre-trial hearing was brief as Ongwen simply had to confirm his identity and that he clearly understood the charges against him. During his hearing, Ongwen thanked God and referred to himself as a former soldier saying that he "was abducted in 1988 and...taken to the bush when [he] was 14 years old." He spoke in Acholi, his native language. Ongwen faces three counts of crimes against humanity: murder, enslavement, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering; and four counts of war crimes: murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, and pillaging. A pre-trial confirmation of charges hearing has been scheduled for August. This hearing will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe that Ongwen committed each of the crimes with which he is charged. The ICC took legal custody of Ongwen in Central African Republic's capital Bangui earlier this month.
The decades-long civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo shows signs of winding down, but is apparently leaving in its wake a good old "anti-crime" police state that sees impoverished youth as a threat and seeks to exterminate them. Human Rights Watch reported last month that police in the DRC summarily killed at least 51 youth and "forcibly disappeared" 33 others during an anti-crime campaign that began a year ago. "Operation Likofi," which lasted from November 2013 to February 2014, was officially a crackdown on criminal gangs in Congo's capital, Kinshasa. HRW's report, "Operation Likofi: Police Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Kinshasa," details how uniformed police, often wearing masks, dragged suspected gang members—known as kuluna—from their homes at night and executed them. Police shot and killed the unarmed young men and boys outside their homes, in open markets where they slept or worked, or in nearby fields or empty lots. Many others were taken without warrants to unknown locations, never to be seen again.
The murders of more than 250 men, women and children in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Beni Territory in recent weeks have widely been blamed on an Islamist insurgency of Ugandan origin known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces-NALU (ADF-NALU). But several armed groups and racketeering gangs are active in the area and the culprits of these killings have not been incontrovertibly identified. The killings were carried out, in various episodes between Oct. 2 and Dec. 7, using knives, machetes and hoes, in parts of Nord Kivu province, on some occasions in close proximity to positions held by the national army (FARDC) and bases of the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO). Just in the 48 hours leading up to the night of Dec. 7, 50 people were killed in two parts of Beni territory, according to Civil Society in North Kivu, a local organization. (See map.)
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Dec. 1 upheld the conviction and sentence of former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. Lubanga was convicted in March 2012 for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. He received a 14-year prison sentence from the ICC. Lubanga's lawyers were seeking to have the conviction and the sentence replaced with an acquittal. Lubanga has spent the past eight years in prison, all of which count towards the 14-year total. He will serve out the remainder of the sentence in one of the ICC's 122 member states and will be eligible for early release next year.
The head of the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, on Sept. 24 announced the office will open a second investigation (PDF) into the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) with respect to crimes allegedly committed since 2012. Alleged crimes against humanity include murder, torture, rape, attacking personnel or objects involved in a humanitarian assistance missions, pillage, and the use of child soldiers under the age of 15. The ICC report states there is reasonable belief that both sides of the conflict may be culpable for crimes against humanity. Bensouda opened a preliminary examination in February 2014 due to escalating violence in CAR, and in May the transitional government of CAR led by Catherine Samba-Panza urged the ICC to pursue the investigation. Prosecutor Bensouda intends to accumulate criminal evidence to identify and prosecute those responsible for the most serious crimes:
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 7 found (PDF) Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga guilty of four counts of war crimes and one count of crime against humanity. The crimes were committed during an attack on a village in a diamond-rich region of Congo in 2003, in which approximately 200 civilians were killed and some sexually assaulted. During a public hearing Friday, presiding judge Bruno Cotte delivered a summary of the judgment. He explained that based on the evidence presented and witness testimony, it had been established beyond a reasonable doubt that Katanga made a "significant contribution to the commission of crimes by the Ngiti militia." The court acquitted Katanga of the other charges, including sexual slavery, using child soldiers and rape. Katanga is only the second person to be convicted since the court's inception in 2002.
A French court opened trial Feb. 4 against former Rwandan intelligence chief Pascal Simbikangwa in the country's first trial of a suspect in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Simbikangwa, 54, is charged with arming and directing Hutu extremists in the violence that claimed the lives of an estimated half a million ethnic Tutsi. He was arrested in 2008 while in hiding on the French island of Mayotte. A paraplegic since 1986, Simbikangwa faces a potential life sentence for complicity in the genocide and crimes against humanity. The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has accused France of supporting the Hutu militia and harboring fugitives who fled to France in the years following the genocide. This trial is seen as an important first step in repairing relations between the embittered nations.
Almost 20,000 people of Chadian origin have fled violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) in recent weeks, and many more are expected to join the exodus, which is straining humanitarian capacity in Chad, a country many of those fleeing have never lived in. "Those of us who were born here are Central Africans, but we are treated like foreigners. We have never seen Chad but have to go there for our own protection," said Awa Rabilou, one of thousands of people camped for the last two weeks outside the Chadian embassy in Bangui, waiting for a place on a truck headed for Chad. "Our houses were burnt. We left with only the clothes we were wearing. They even threw grenades at us. It was people who joined the anti-balaka who did this. If we stay in our neighborhood, they will kill us," added Rabilou.