War Criminal Accepts Conviction and Expresses Regret for Victims' Suffering: What About Reparations?

Few observers expected Germain Katanga, a militia leader found guilty of promoting ruthless attacks on civilians in eastern Congo, to lay down his arms and accept the judgment of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
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Few observers expected Germain Katanga, a militia leader found guilty of promoting ruthless attacks on civilians in eastern Congo, to lay down his arms and accept the judgment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, according to a statement from the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor released Wednesday, both the Katanga defense team and the prosecution team discontinued their appeals, making the Court's guilty judgment and sentence of 12 years imprisonment final.

The statement also reports that Katanga expressed "sincere regret to all those who have suffered as a result of his conduct, including the victims of Bogoro," a town where many of the brutal killings occurred.

Katanga's acceptance of the Court's judgment is somewhat surprising given the controversy surrounding the guilty verdict. One of the three judges deciding the case, Judge Van de Wyngaert, wrote a scathing 170-page dissent finding that the Court transformed the charges during the course of proceedings, relied on facts outside of the scope of the charges, and failed to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Writing for the majority, the other two judges, Judge Cotte and Judge Diarra, had redefined the standard for Katanga's participation in the alleged crimes from "perpetrator" to "contributor" before ruling that Katanga was guilty of one count of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes. Some, including Judge Van de Wyngaert, viewed such ratcheting down of the standard for conviction during trial as a violation of due process and the rights of the accused.

Judge Van de Wyngaert writes:

As concerns the rest of the Majority's Opinion, I find myself in disagreement with almost every aspect of it. Not only do I believe that the timing and manner in which the recharacterisation has been implemented is fundamentally unfair and has violated several of the accused's most fundamental rights, I am also of the view that the evidence in this case simply does not support the charges against him.

It is yet unclear exactly why Katanga discontinued his conviction appeal. He may have cut a deal with the prosecution to accept the Court's judgment in exchange for dropping an appeal of his acquittal for rape and sexual slavery, or he may have made a decision to forego any ongoing legal battle for more personal reasons, as his attorney contends. Either way he has already served seven of his 12-year sentence, and will be eligible for review in about a year, after serving two-thirds of his sentence. Regardless of his reasons, the ICC will no doubt celebrate its victory in the battle against impunity.

Yet for victims in eastern Congo the victory is partial.

Earlier this year, I interviewed victims of the Bogoro attack, many of whom were involved in the Katanga case, and they expressed complicated views of the trial. Some victims will no doubt applaud the guilty verdict, but for many others the conviction will change little in their lives. Their loved ones are gone, their houses charred, their cows and goats missing. It is important to remember that a symbolic win for the Court does not necessarily translate into meaningful justice for victims.

Katanga's expression of regret is an important development, but it is still unknown what this will mean to the victims of Bogoro, if anything. What is known, however, is that the final phase of the case can now begin. With the guilty judgment final, the Court must now decide on whether they will award reparations to victims and what forms such reparations might take. For those struggling to survive in eastern Congo, the promise of compensation may be the most vital decision in the case.

The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law conducts research on war crimes and other serious violations of international law, supports vulnerable populations, and trains the next generation of human rights advocates and researchers. The center's Atrocity Response Program conducted this study and is currently engaged in a multi-country study of victim-participants at the ICC.

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