DRC: Human rights defenders celebrate indictment of Roger Lumbala in Paris

(Kinshasa, Kisangani, Nairobi, Paris) – The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (ASADHO - l’Association africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme), the Lotus Group (Groupe Lotus), and the League of Voters (Ligue des électeurs) – welcome the arrest of Roger Lumbala and the opening of a judicial investigation against him in France.

Roger Lumbala is charged as leader of the armed group Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie - national (RCD-N) for crimes against humanity committed in Ituri in 2002-2003. Our organisations welcome this judicial procedure carried out in application of universal jurisdiction as part of the follow-up to the UN Mapping Report on the serious human rights violations committed between 1993 and 2003 in the DRC.

A judicial investigation was opened against former warlord Roger Lumbala on 2 January 2021 in France by the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Unit of the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office, for complicity in crimes against humanity and participation in a group formed to commit crimes against humanity. Lumbala, a DRC national, had been arrested on 29 December 2020 in Paris by members of the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes against Humanity, Crimes and War Crimes. He has since been detained at the Prison de la Santé, as part of the preliminary investigation opened in December 2016 on the basis of universal jurisdiction for the most serious international crimes committed in the DRC. [1]

"We welcome the fact that the public prosecutor’s office of the French specialised unit has initiated this procedure and carried out one of the first indictments abroad of a former Congolese warlord. This demonstrates once again that universal jurisdiction is a tool for victims of international crimes who cannot find justice in their own country," explains Clémence Bectarte, coordinator of FIDH’s Litigation Action Group.

The alleged offences date back to 2002 and 2003. They were committed in the former Orientale province of the DRC, at a time when the country was beginning a transition after two wars that had devastated the country since 1996. Roger Lumbala led the political-military group RCD-N, which was active in Haut-Uélé and Ituri.

Its troops are accused in the UN Mapping Report of having killed, maimed, tortured, and raped civilians, committed acts of cannibalism and looting as part of Operation Effacer le tableau ("erasing the board" or "cleaning the slate") and used child soldiers to participate in hostilities. This operation was launched by the Armée de Libération du Congo (ALC), the armed wing of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Mouvement de Libération du Congo (MLC) party, to which other armed groups, including RCD-N, contributed, in Orientale province and North Kivu in 2002. [2] Some Nande and Pygmy victims were targeted by this operation on the basis of their ethnicity, according to the report.

"The crimes committed by Roger Lumbala and RCD-N date back to the early 2000s and victims have been waiting for justice for almost 20 years! "

Dismas Kitenge, President of the Lotus Group

FIDH and its member organisations in the DRC have documented numerous crimes committed between 2002 and 2003 in the East of the country, published several reports [3] and transmitted testimonies of victims and witnesses of Operation Effacer le tableau to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which opened in June 2004 an investigation into international crimes committed in the DRC since July 2002. Several Congolese survivors of crimes committed in Ituri in 2002 and represented by FIDH lawyers were recognised in 2006 as participating victims at the investigation stage of the ICC. [4]

In October 2020, 10 years after the publication of the Mapping Report, no progress had been made and several initiatives were underway to call for the implementation of the report’s recommendations. [5] The indictment of Roger Lumbala is therefore a step forward in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes of the past, to which FIDH and its member organisations in the DRC have continued to contribute.

"The indictment of Roger Lumbala for the serious crimes committed when he was at the head of the armed group RCD-N is a significant step forward in the implementation of the Mapping Report and in the search for truth, justice and reparation for the victims of these crimes, but there are still many unpunished crimes in the DRC that must be dealt with by the Congolese authorities," said Paul Nsapu, President of the League of Voters and Vice President of FIDH.

According to Jean-Claude Katende, President of ASADHO, "It is also important that this action be followed by other African and Western countries in implementing the recommendations of the Mapping Report."

According to the Mapping Report, before leading the RCD-N, Roger Lumbala was president of the French wing of the party, at the time in opposition, of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social) (UDPS), allied to Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC at the time. During the transitional national government between 2003 and 2005, he was Minister of Foreign Trade and at the 2006 legislative elections he was elected as a national deputy. In 2013, Roger Lumbala was in Kampala to participate on behalf of the M23 rebel movement in negotiations between the Congolese government and the M23. In recent months, he had given his support to Felix Tshisekedi. [6]

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