The international criminal court (ICC) has taken a stand on rape used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced on Monday that he is seeking new charges against Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, as well as an arrest warrant for Sylvestre Mudacumura the head of a Rwandan rebel group, both of whom are allegedly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the DRC.
Ntaganda has been wanted by the Court since 2006 for recruiting child soldiers and using children under 15 to participate actively in hostilities in the eastern province of Ituri between 2002 and 2003. Thomas Lubanga, Ntaganda’s former boss, was arrested and found guilty of these crimes but Ntaganda is still at large.
Prosecutor Ocampo wants to expand these charges to include murder, persecution based on ethnic grounds, rape, sexual slavery, attacking civilians and pillaging. The additional charges reflect the maturity of the court to tackle a major human rights abuse that has plagued eastern DRC—rape as a weapon of war.
This is a timely intervention by the Court and comes in the wake of a statement made by Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General’s special representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, who voiced her concern about the latest wave of fighting in the east—especially in areas that have previously witnessed sexual violence committed against civilians by members of armed groups.
Wallström called “on all parties to immediately refrain from any acts of violence and urge the Government of DRC to ensure the protection of civilians, including from sexual violence,” sending a warning message that the world is watching and that the fight against impunity will continue.
The Court filed another arrest warrant application, against a leader of one of the most active militia in the Kivu provinces, Sylvestre Mudacumura, the Supreme Commander of the FDLR-FOCA. The FLDR-FOCA is an armed group created by people allegedly involved in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 who fled Rwanda and relocated in eastern DRC.
Mudacumura is charged with five counts of crimes against humanity: murder, inhumane acts, rape, torture and persecution and nine counts of war crimes: attacks against civilian population, murder or willful killing, mutilation, cruel treatment, rape, torture, destruction of property, pillaging, and outrage upon personal dignity. The alleged crimes were committed by the FDLR-FOCA between January 20, 2009 and August 31, 2010, in North and South Kivu Provinces.
By issuing new arrest warrants, the Court has done its part to curb the culture of impunity that has evolved in eastern DRC following years of conflict. But it is up to the Congolese government to enforce the arrest these individuals, which is no small feat given that Mudacumura and Ntaganda command support from hundreds of fighters capable to challenge Congolese troops.