Judges and prosecutor argue over powers

27 March 2005 by HEIKELINA VERRIJN STUART

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) first status conference was held in camera on 15 March. It was convened to provide an update on the prosecutor’s investigations in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). No information has filtered through on talks between the judges and Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo on this subject. But there have been strong echoes of a legal culture clash and the boundaries of responsibility between the pre-trial chamber and the prosecution.

The chamber, presided over by the French judge, Claude Jorda, had taken the initiative to call the so-called status conference. In June 2004, the ICC prosecutor announced he would be opening investigations in the highly unstable DRC. During its 5-year war, in which various estimates say some 3 million people were directly or indirectly-killed, the peace process in the DRC has been constantly undermined. The prosecutor decided to focus on Ituri, in eastern DRC, and target the highest-ranking suspects of crimes committed in 2002, together with those who supplied them with money and arms. Since then, only low-key investigations have been carried out in the DRC, and no indictments have yet been issued. Security considerations on the ground make investigations more sensitive, as does the political dimension. Although DRC's President Kabila has officially referred the crimes committed in the whole of Congo to the ICC prosecutor, two of the four current vice-presidents could be indicted for crimes committed in Ituri. Given this context, witness protection is one of the difficulties looming over the investigations.

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