Deal firmly with rebel leaders

The war in the DRC was so intense and brutal that it came to be known as Africa’s First World War as six countries from across the continent battled it out in the jungles and cities of the vast nation. Women were raped, children were conscripted and trained as soldiers and teenagers were sent out to kill and maim with impunity. People had their limbs cut off and pregnant women had their wombs ripped open in a display of savagery hitherto only seen during slavery, colonial wars, the Jewish Holocaust and in America’s wars in South East Asia. Never had such brutality been visited upon Africans by fellow Africans. It was this sad state of affairs that led people to question why no internationally recognised legal proceedings were being instituted against the perpetrators of this violence. The International Criminal Court, a creation of the 1998 Rome Statute had been in existence for years and yet nothing was seemingly being done about the individuals behind the deaths of some four million people since war erupted. The efficacy of the ICC was being called into question and there was a growing impression that African lives and African livelihoods did not count for much in international justice. This was a view further substantiated by the fact that there has been endless resistance to calls by some groups for the West to be brought before an international tribunal and answer to charges of crimes against humanity stemming from slavery and colonialism. It was, therefore, with no small measure of relief and satisfaction that news filtered in to the effect that Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the leader of the ethnic-based Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) was brought before the ICC at The Hague facing allegations that he recruited and abused child soldiers in the troubled Eastern DRC district of Ituri. Dyilo was arrested in the DRC in March 2005 following a request by President Joseph Kabila to the ICC that they investigate war crimes committed in his country. The UPC is primarily made up of Hema people who are the traditional archenemies of the Lendu and the existence of such ethnic-based groups pose huge ‘ but not insurmountable ‘ problems in the DRC’s quest to weld the whole country into a single, united nation. It was also pleasing to read a spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Prosecutor at The Hague, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, saying they would be taking a phased approach to the whole issue and that Dyilo’s arrest was just the first in a series of a systematic dismantling of that country’s terror machine and bring those behind it to book. In addition to this, prosecutors at The Hague want to ensure proceedings against Dyilo are carried out expediently so as to avoid a situation similar to that of Slobodan Milosevic who died in custody before the courts could make any conclusive judgments on the charges the former Yugoslav leader was facing. Indications that Dyilo could end up facing even more charges when the final indictments will be discussed when the case resumes at The Hague on June 27. Many observers have hailed the arrest of Dyilo with the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch saying his appearance in court gave the victims of the Ituri violence some hope of seeing justice done at last. The organisation said this first step would go a long way in ending the culture of impunity that characterised the activities of terrorists in the DRC. Reporters Without Borders have added their voice to the growing chorus of approval pointing out that the culture of impunity was a blight on Africa’s human rights record and Dyilo’s arrest would ease the severity of such criticisms levelled against the continent. The fact that the ICC is taking an increasing interest in people behind atrocities in Africa is a breath of fresh air. So far, the ICC has initiated formal investigations in the DRC, Northern Uganda and the troubled Darfur Province of Sudan. In fact, a warrant of arrest remains out for Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony and some of the commanders of his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), who stand accused of committing atrocities similar to those committed by Dyilo and company in the DRC. It is hoped that the ICC’s prosecutors will soon begin moving on the Darfur case and deal with all the people behind the terror in that region as a way of showing that war crimes and crimes against humanity will not be tolerated here nor anywhere else in the world. The DRC has shown its commitment to instilling a culture of accountability by sentencing Kanyanga Biyoyo ‘ the leader of a former armed group known as Mudundu ‘ for recruiting, illegally detaining and abusing child soldiers. The United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC) hailed the judgment saying it was without precedent and constituted a significant step for the DRC. Though Dyilo’s appearance in court last week was merely to establish the identity of the accused and inform him of his rights, that simple act was symbolic in that it was the first step in the DRC’s long road to stability through accountability.

March 2006
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