The International Criminal Court in The Hague has convicted former Congolese warlord Germain Katanga of being an accessory to crimes against humanity. But he was cleared of more serious charges relating to atrocities carried out in 2003. Katanga’s guilty verdict is just the second conviction in the court’s 12-year history.
At the end of a trial lasting six years, Presiding Judge Bruno Cotte delivered the court’s verdict Friday.
He announced that the Chamber declares Germain Katanga guilty as an accessory to the crimes committed on 24th of February 2003, of murder as a crime against humanity.
The conviction marks only a partial victory for the prosecution, says Phil Clark, an expert on the ICC from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
“The more important charges around whether Katanga orchestrated these massacres in Ituri province in northeastern Congo; whether he was responsible for rape, sexual slavery, and the use of child soldiers. They’ll be disappointed that those charges didn’t stick," said Clark.
Katanga led a militia group called the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri, a diamond-rich part of northeast Congo.
In one attack in February 2003, prosecutors said at least 200 civilians died as Katanga directed child soldiers in a killing spree. Women and girls were allegedly forced to become sex slaves.
Katanga was found guilty of supplying guns in the massacre - but not of directing it.
The failure to convict on those charges lies with ICC prosecutors, says Phil Clark.
“The ICC has been doing its investigations on the cheap. It’s been using a really small group of investigators who haven’t spent an enormous amount of time in Congo. The prosecution has cut corners, they’ve used local Congolese intermediaries to do a lot of their dirty work. And as a result of that these cases haven’t been systematically built," he said.
One of the judges gave a dissenting opinion on the verdict -- saying the decision to convict Katanga as an accessory, when he had first been charged with playing a central role, meant the trial was unfair.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda disagreed.
“Today's verdict is part of an independent and impartial judicial process, which pays homage to the highest standards of the due process," said Bensouda.
Katanga’s co-accused, former warlord Mathieu Nngudjolo Chui, was acquitted in 2012 after prosecutors failed to prove he had directed massacres in 2003.
Legal observers say Germain Katanga’s defense team is likely to appeal his guilty verdict.