The International Criminal Court (ICC) has handed down its first ever verdict in the case of former rebel leader Thomas Lubanga of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), finding him guilty of using child soldiers in his militia. As Iturians consider the landmark verdict, it is an opportune moment to reflect on the impact that the investigation and trial, alongside other activities of the ICC, have had in Lubanga’s native Ituri district.
In an effort to bring the voices and concerns of Iturians to the fore in this reflection, the International Refugee Rights Initiative and its Iturian partner organization, the Association pour la promotion et la défense de la dignité des victims (APRODIVI), has launched a key report, entitled Steps Towards Justice, Frustrated Hopes: Some Reflections on the Experience of the International Criminal Court in Ituri.
Drawing on the experiences of IRRI and APRODIVI following the Court’s work in Ituri and working with victims and other activists, the paper reflects the views of Iturians on the process. The paper notes that the ICC is seen on the ground in Ituri as having pierced the veil of impunity: there is appreciation of the fact that leaders such as these can be forced to face trial.
It was also acknowledged that the security situation has improved significantly since the Court first became involved, attributed in part to the ICC’s engagement.
At the same time, the paper explores the disappointment expressed about the nature and impact of the ICC intervention. Rooted in a perception that there had been a lack of understanding of the context on the ground, concerns were raised about prosecutorial strategy, continuing barriers to full and effective participation of victims and the fairness and objectivity of Court proceedings.
More broadly these reflections suggest that some fundamental questions need to be asked about the current capacity of the Court to meet the kind of expectations which are being created in vulnerable communities where violence is ongoing and the state protections are minimal. The paper offers several concrete recommendations and an agenda for future reflection and research.