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Katanga's ICC appearance should not be underestimated

Katerina I. Kappos [Trial Watch Coordinator, TRIAL]: "On 18 October 2007, a second arrest warrant concerning the situation in DRC was publicly announced and unsealed by the ICC. A day earlier, Katanga was surrendered by the Congolese authorities and transferred to the ICC. The warrant of arrest lists six war crimes and three crimes against humanity in the territory of Ituri, in the DRC allegedly committed by Germain Katanga, alleged commander of the Force de résistance patriotique en Ituri (FRPI). Katanga is the second suspect to be transferred to the ICC. The next important step in his case will likely be a hearing on 28 February 2008, at which prosecutors present a summary of their evidence and judges rule whether it is strong enough to merit sending Katanga to trial.

While Katanga can be counted among the 'small fish', the significance of his appearance before the ICC should not be underestimated. At the local level, the fact that Katanga belongs to a different militia group than Lubanga (the first suspect to be put on trial before the ICC), shows that the proceedings of the ICC do not only target one militia group. Katanga's surrender contributes not only to discouraging the warlords in the eastern parts of DRC but also preventing the commission of further grave crimes against the civilian population. At the international level, the decision to prosecute Katanga for nine crimes, including sexual slavery, which is defined for the first time under the ICC Statute as a war crime and a crime against humanity, is a significant step in the fight against impunity for the worst crimes committed and continuing in Ituri and other regions of the world.

Five years after its establishment, the system of international criminal justice represented by the ICC is still in its infancy. As opposed to a national justice system with which the citizen is confronted on a daily basis in the case of violation of a regulation or a law, the ICC remains a somewhat remote or abstract entity. The reason for this might be found in the extraordinary character of its jurisdictional competencies. On the one hand, it charged with prosecuting the 'crimes of the crimes', such as genocide or crimes against humanity. On the other hand, it was not set up to replace national justice systems. Rather, it is supposed to 'fill the gaps' and prosecute those persons whom States are either unwilling or unable to prosecute.

However, given that the ICC does not have its own police force, its collection of information and evidence is strongly dependant on the cooperation wit the State in which the crimes were committed. The 'big fish' — the political masterminds behind the atrocities- are often still in positions of power and locally untouchable. Thus, in order to avoid multiple arrest warrants being issued but never executed, the solution to focus on the 'smaller fish' like Lubanga and now Katanga is to be welcomed. Not least because by focusing on 'bigger fish', the ICC would risk becoming a 'court without cases'. It would be launching multiple investigations and issuing arrest warrants without however being able to prosecute for lack of State cooperation in arresting the suspects. The effect of such a policy on the image of the ICC could be catastrophic."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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