The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a groundbreaking ruling on Friday when they awarded collective and individual reparations to the victims of war crimes committed by former Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga.
Katanga, otherwise known as ‘Simba’, led the Ngiti militia group and political party Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FPRI) from 2002 to 2005, until he was deposed by Baudouin Adirodo. In this time, he participated in the 2003 Bogoro massacre, where FPRI troops went on what ICC deputy prosecutor Fatou Bensouda called an “indiscriminate killing spree.”
On March 7, 2014, Katanga was found guilty as an accessory to one count of a crime against humanity (murder) and four counts of war crimes (murder, attacking a civilian population, destruction of property and pillaging). He was also charged with the use of child soldiers and sexual enslavement, though not convicted. For his crimes, Katanga is currently serving a twelve-year prison stretch and is also standing trial for related domestic crimes within the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On March 24, 2017, the ICC extended their ruling by awarding compensation to the victims of the Bogoro war crimes, an order that has been described as a “landmark step” for the tribunal. “It may bring the prospect of some redress for the victims,” said Pieter de Baan, director of the Trust Fund for Victims, speaking about the ruling before the verdict. He argued it was important to show justice “doesn’t stop in the courtroom.”
In total, the court ordered reparations of more than 3.7 million dollars. “The chamber has assessed the scope of the prejudice to 297 victims as $3,752,620. The chamber sets the amount to be contributed by Mr. Katanga towards the reparations as $1m,” said presiding judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut.
The ICC released a statement, explaining their reasoning for ordering compensation in this manner, stating: “The order provides for two types of reparations: individual reparations, awarded to individuals to repair the harm they have suffered; and collective reparations, consisting of long-term projects covering a whole community but still focusing on individual victims to the extent possible.”
While an exciting legal precedent that helps return the focus from punishing perpetrators of war crimes to aiding the victims of such tragedies, the ICC ruling is somewhat complicated by the insolvency of Katanga. The judges, recognizing that Katanga didn’t have the funds required, suggested that the Trust Fund for Victims should consider making the payment. The Trust Fund for Victims is an independent body set up under the ICC’s founding guidelines, to support and implement programmes to help victims.
However, the Trust Fund for Victims only has $5m available, of which $1m has been set aside for the case of Thomas Lubanga – another Congolese former rebel leader sentenced in 2012 to 14 years imprisonment for conscripting child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And, under Trust Fund for Victims’ guidelines, it can only help pay collective reparations, not any individual claims.
Pieter de Baan remained optimistic, pointing out that, “The reparations regime of the court is without real precedent. It’s not science. It’s basically trying to reach an estimation of what the harm has been in relation to the crimes.”
Though Katanga may not personally be able to pay the reparations he owes, the fact that the precedent has been set for future rulings is still valuable. Victims of war crimes are certainly pleased by the imprisonment of those who engineered their torment, but they also require the means and funds to rebuild their lives. This ICC ruling helps allow for that.