International Criminal Court convicts Congolese warlord of war crimes

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JOHANNESBURG -- The International Criminal Court on Friday handed down the second conviction in its 12-year history, finding Congolese warlord Germain Katanga guilty of war crimes.

Mr. Katanga, a leader of the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri, one of the myriad armed militias in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was found guilty of being an accomplice to murders and pillage during a 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro. He was acquitted of other charges, including rape and recruiting child soldiers.

Mr. Katanga was found guilty of four counts of war crimes and one count of crimes against humanity. The court, based in The Hague, found that although child soldiers were present on the day of the attack, it was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that he was responsible.

The court's only other conviction came in 2012, when another Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, was sentenced to 14 years for atrocities and war crimes such as recruiting child soldiers.

Human Rights Watch welcomed Friday's verdict, saying it provided a measure of justice for victims of atrocities in Congo. But it called on court investigators to pursue other cases in eastern Congo, which has seen countless attacks, brutal killings and rapes over many years of war.

"Katanga's conviction for the Bogoro massacre will hopefully bring a sense of justice to victims there, and send a clear warning to rights abusers throughout Congo," said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, of the rights organization.

The court has been under intense pressure from hostile African leaders in the past year over its cases against two Kenyan leaders, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, for ethnic killings during the country's 2007 election. The case against Mr. Kenyatta is reported to be close to collapse after the withdrawal of key witnesses. That would be a major blow to the court's credibility, although prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has cited witness intimidation and a lack of cooperation from Kenyan authorities. Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto had promised to cooperate with the court before their election last year, but have since campaigned strongly for the cases to be dropped.

While human rights groups strongly support the court, saying it is a last resort for victims when leaders or governments refuse to act, African leaders have increasingly accused the court of being biased against Africa. Among the strongest foes of the court are Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a former court supporter; Rwandan President Paul Kagame; and the Kenyan government.

Mr. Katanga was found to have provided arms and ammunition to rebels who carried out the 2003 attack on Bogoro, where about 200 people, mostly civilians, were slain. The assailants surrounded the village and killed people with machetes and guns. Many women were raped or abducted as sex slaves, according to reports of the attack.

The Congolese government handed over Mr. Katanga to the international court in 2007.

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