DRC awaiting first arrest warrants

23 January 2006 by Emmanuel Chicon and Benjamin Bibas

On January 10, Serge Brammertz, the deputy prosecutor in charge of investigations at the International Criminal Court (ICC), was given a six-month temporary assignment as head of the UN's fact-finding committee on the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister. Since his departure, Congolese NGOs, which had already advised the Court to issue arrest warrants before the December 18 referendum, are concerned that the ICC "legal proceedings will be stalled" in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In a country where individuals suspected of war crimes hold political office, and whose terms may be renewed following the March 5 legislative elections, the question is: why is the ICC waiting to issue its first arrest warrants in the DRC?

Since July 2003, one month after taking office, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, has been saying that he intends to focus specifically on Ituri, a district in the northeast on the Congolese-Ugandan border. There, six militia groups that in many cases have ties to former Congolese belligerents currently in power in Kinshasa, some of which are supported by the Kampala government, fought from 2002 to 2004 over control of the mineral resources while terrorizing the civilian population - massacres, gang rapes, torture, conscripting children, etc. The matter was referred to the prosecutor, who opened an investigation three months later into the "serious crimes" committed in this country. At the beginning of December 2005, he said the investigation is in a "very advanced" stage.

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