By Henry D Gombya
The International Criminal Court (ICC) sitting in The Hague Friday has declined to confirm charges of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes labelled against Callixte Mbarushimana. The abrupt announcement came late Friday evening after the Pre-Trial Chamber I refused to move his case forward to trial stage.
Mbarushimana, a Rwandan citizen, was alleged to have carried out the atrocities in Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The ICC Prosecutor had argued that there were sufficient evidence to try Mbarushimana on charges of crimes against humanity that included murder, rape, torture, persecution and inhumane acts. He had also been charged with war crimes that included attacks against the civilian population, destruction of property, murder, rape, torture and inhumane treatment allegedly committed between January and September 2009 in the DRC.
The majority of judges of the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I established that the court lacked evidence to try Mbarushimana on the above crimes. But the presiding judge, Sanji Monageng dissented. The judges then ordered Mbarushimana to be released from ICC custody. But the court gave the ICC prosecutor a right to appeal the decision as well as the request to suspend his immediate release. That meant that Mbarushimana is still not a free man and was taken back to the cells awaiting the result of the ICC appeal.
Commenting on the court’s decision, Andre Kito, Coordinator of the DRC Coalition for the ICC said: “It is a reality that the FDLR (Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda) forces continue to be very active in the east of the country. The grave crimes they are committing against the civilian population have gone unpunished for many years.” He added: “The arrest of Mbarushimana and his subsequent hearings before the ICC had brought great hope to victims and affected communities in the region that justice would be delivered. So today’s decision will undoubtedly accentuate their suffering and concerns about their security.” “It must also be underlined that there are many other FDLR leaders who should also be the subject of ICC investigations, given the ever-increasing number of crimes committed by them against civilians.”
Kito went on to say it was vital that the court continued to ensure the protection of victims and witnesses that had stepped forward in the case. William Pace, a Convenor for the ICC, a civil society network of more than 2,500 NGOs in 150 countries, said: “It is equally essential for the Court to undertake comprehensive communications activities to explain the decision to victims and affected communities in Kivu Province who will feel extremely disappointed and have security concerns as well.”
Following his arrest by French authorities on October 11 last year, Mbarushimana was transferred to The Hague in January this year. Kivu is a region in the north-eastern area of the DRC that borders Lake Kivu. North and South Kivu have long been sites of conflict involving a number of actors that include the FDLR, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), the Congres National pour la Defence du Peuple (CNDP) and the MONUSCO.
The DRC is one of six situations under investigation by the ICC. It was formerly referred to the Court by the Kabila government in April 2004. Five arrest warrants have so far been issued and two trials are already ongoing. The first was for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and the second for Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui. An arrest warrant for Bosco Ntaganda issued on April 28, 2008, remains outstanding.