DCR warlord nabbed

A spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Prosecutor at The Hague, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, investigating crimes committed by terror groups in the troubled Eastern Ituri region said: “The Office intends to take a phased approach and this warrant (for Dyilo) is but the first in a series.” Moreno-Ocampo has been further quoted saying proceedings concerning Dyilo, who is accused of recruiting and abusing child soldiers, will be shorter than those instituted against former late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic who died a few weeks ago while still in custody before his trial ended. However, Moreno Ocampo indicated it was highly possible that Dyilo could end up facing more indictments. The final indictments will be discussed on June 27 when the case resumes at The Hague. Dyilo’s first appearance – which was also the first ever session of the ICC’s brand new courtroom – lasted no more than thirty minutes and was held for the sole purpose of establishing the identity of the accused and informing him of his rights. Dyilo was quoted saying: “I am Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. I was born on 29 December 1960 … I am a professional politician,” adding that “we are aware of our rights”. Judge Claude Jorga of France explained that the use of the word “we” was not a way of also referring to the defence team, but that Dyilo was using the royal ‘we’ – often used by monarchs. Dyilo was arrested in the DRC in March last year after President Joseph Kabila asked the ICC to investigate the war crimes which have taken place in his country. The accused was leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and is said to have established a number of camps where children were given military training. The UPC is primarily made up of Hema people who are the traditional archenemies of the Lendu. In a statement, the director of the International justice Programme at Human Rights Watch, Richard Dicker said: “Thomas Lubanga’s arrest offers victims of the horrific crimes in Ituri some hope of seeing justice done at last. Congolese civilians have already endured far too much terrible suffering. It is long past time to end the culture of impunity, and the ICC has taken its first step towards that goal.” He added: “Forcing young children to participate in warfare is a serious crime, but the ICC prosecutor must also press additional charges against militia leaders for massacres, torture and rape. The ICC must send a strong signal that these crimes will be punished.” In another statement, Reporters Without Borders said: “Impunity is one of the blights debilitating Africa and Lubanga’s arrest is an important step in the struggle to render justice to the victims of its wars” The DRC government referred the war crimes situation to the ICC in March 2004 and the appearance of Dyilo at The Hague has raised hopes that rebels involved in destabilisation activities in Africa’s mineral richest country will get the point and down arms in favour of peace. Despite the fact that peace agreements were signed in 2002, violence continues unabated in some parts of the DRC, particularly in the Ituri district and this has become rather worrying as the country’s first elections in over forty years are due in a matter of three months. The ICC was set up in 2001 to deal with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity but critics have slammed the court’s slowness in reacting to situations on the ground as has been the case in the DRC, the former Yugoslavia and the Sudan. From the time it was set up, the ICC has formally initiated only three investigations in the DRC, Northern Uganda and the Sudanese province Darfur with the court issuing its only warrants last year for Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony and some of his commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony stands accused of committing crimes similar to those committed by Dyilo, namely, recruiting and abusing child soldiers among other atrocities. The United Nations Security Council referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC in March last year and Moreno-Ocampo reported in December that his office had “collated a comprehensive picture of crimes allegedly committed in Darfur since 1 July 2002, including mass rapes and high numbers of killings”. To date, around 140 countries have signed and 100 ratified the Rome Statute that paved the way for the creation of the ICC adopted in 1998. However, the US has not ratified the Statute and this, observers say, significantly dis-empowers the court as the world’s only super power is not a part of it. In fact, the US American Servicemembers Act allows the military to invade The Hague if it is in Washington’s interests to do so. In a demonstration that the DRC would not be tolerating perpetrators of war crimes, a Congolese military tribunal has sentenced a leader of a former armed group, Kanyanga Biyoyo, to five years in jail for crimes that include the illegal detention of children, the UN Mission in that country (MONUC) announced last week. “The judgment, which is without precedent, constitutes a significant step forward for Congolese justice in the fight against impunity for these types of crimes against children,” MONUC said in its statement. The NGO Human Rights Watch said Mudundu, led by Biyoyo, was made up of 40 percent child soldiers. The DRC has of late been cleaning up its image ahead of the June elections in the hope that increased peace and stability will allow the vast country an opportunity to exploit its full economic and industrial potential.

March 2006
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