The first investigation of the International Criminal Court will focus on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Great hope for the victims of a conflict featuring regional dimension

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – ASADHO, Ligue des Electeurs, and Groupe Lotus – welcome the opening of the first investigation announced today by the Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In September 2003, the Prosecutor had announced that the situation in Ituri – in the east of Congo – would constitute a priority for his office. On 3 March 2004, President Joseph Kabila referred the situation to Mr. Moreno, requesting that he investigate the situation unfolding in the DRC since 1 July 2002 (see the FIDH press release of 23 April 2004).

The investigation, whose opening was announced today by the Prosecutor, represents a new step towards effective prosecution of perpetrators of the most serious crimes. It reaffirms respect for victims’ right to seek justice. It is also a sign of the Court’s capacity for action despite resistance on the part of certain states.

FIDH recalls that the Court has jurisdiction to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, committed on the Congolese territory, regardless of their nationality.

FIDH and its partners in the DRC call upon the Congolese authorities to cooperate fully with the ICC. They must facilitate the investigations conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor and render victims’ access to the Court through the Registry possible.

The DRC must immediately adopt legislation implementing the ICC Statute and ratify the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities, which came into force yesterday.

No political consideration should prevent this cooperation and thus weaken the imperative of justice.

FIDH and its member organisations recall that the ICC must ensure effective protection for victims and witnesses, as well as effective exercise of the right of victims to participate at all stages of the proceedings, in accordance with the Court’s Statute.

FIDH considers the Prosecutor’s announcement to be an essential action in the context of violence once again taking over the East of the DRC. The ICC is the first permanent international criminal institution. Its entry into an operational phase must, therefore, contribute to establishing sustainable peace in this country and to preventing that new serious human rights violations are committed.

FIDH announces that it will organise a training session on the ICC for eight representatives of Congolese non-governmental organisations. This will be held at the FIDH office in The Hague starting 28 June. Through this session, FIDH will seek to facilitate dialogue between civil society representatives and Court officials. The session is also aimed at ensuring that representatives of Congolese victims learn how they can better use the Court’s mechanisms.

In addition, FIDH has learned that the United States government would not apply for a renewal of the Security Council Resolution exempting American soldiers from ICC jurisdiction (see our communiqué of 21 May 2004). Given the disapproval expressed by numerous states, civil society, and the United Nations Secretary General, the American administration was unable to obtain the majority required at the Security Council, and thus ended up acknowledging its isolation.

FIDH considers this to be an important victory of the international community against an « à la carte » type of justice.

Nevertheless, FIDH remains vigilant and calls on the Security Council not to contradict the message sent out today, in possible future resolutions dealing with specific cases.

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