Congolese human rights minister: New criminal court deters tribal warfare
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) – Congo’s human rights minister said Thursday the new International Criminal Court has had “a pronounced deterrent effect” on armed groups in Congo’s strife-torn northeast since prosecutors said last year that the militias could be the court’s first target for a war crimes investigation.
Marie-Madeleine Kalala, speaking by telephone from meetings in Cape Town, South Africa, said she has invited the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was unclear if the Argentine prosecutor would accept the offer.
“The announcement by the prosecutor that he is considering bringing his first case in the Congo had a pronounced deterrent effect on the action of armed groups in Ituri,” Kalala told the Associated Press.
After a period of relative calm, U.N. troops in the region have met fierce resistance in recent days as they attempt to disarm the rival groups by June 30.
A visit by Moreno-Ocampo would “underscore his determination to bring a case there,” the minister said, speaking through an interpreter.
Kalala’s comments came at the start of a closed three-day conference by 30 officials seeking to end the tribal fighting in the remote Ituri province that continued after a 2003 peace agreement ended a devastating five-year civil war that drew in government forces.
The meeting was organized by the International Center for Transnational Justice, a group aiding countries pursuing accountability for mass atrocity or human rights abuses, and included Congolese government officials, U.N. representatives and legal experts.
Last July, Moreno-Ocampo identified Congo as its first potential case, after receiving reports describing the carnage in the province, including the mutilation of bodies and cannibalism during the previous year. He said an investigation could include business in neighboring countries illegally profiting from the area’s diamonds and gold.
Paul van Zyl, of the New York-based center, said the court’s announcement “caused leaders of armed factions to stop and take stock” of their actions.
Prosecutors at the court, established in July 2001 despite strong opposition from the U.S. government, have said the deaths of at least 5,000 civilians in tribal violence in the Ituri province may constitute war crimes under their jurisdiction.
The court has appointed 18 international judges, a chief prosecutor and his deputy, but is still hiring key staff essential to initiate a first case.
Moreno-Ocampo told members of Congo’s newly installed power-sharing government attending the Cape Town conference that he will launch a formal investigation on three conditions: that the crimes fall under the court’s jurisdiction, that a prosecution by the court would deter more violence, and that it would not undermine Congo’s delicate peace process.
The International Criminal Court is empowered to intervene as a “court of last resort” if one of the 92 member countries is found to be “unable or unwilling” to prosecute individuals responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide.
Since Congo did not endorse the Rome Statute creating the court, the government in Kinshasa would have to relinquish jurisdiction to the court, based in the Dutch city of The Hague.
Tribal factions have continued to battle each other despite the presence of around 4,600 U.N. peacekeepers and military observers. U.N. troops and military observers have been in the Congo since 1999, a year after the outbreak of war, to monitor a cease-fire.