The International Criminal Court issues the first arrest warrant in its investigation in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its affiliated members and partner organizations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) welcome the first arrest warrant to be issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its investigation in the DRC. This first arrest warrant represents an important step forward in the activities of the ICC in the DRC.

On 17 March 2006, the International Criminal Court made public its decision of 10 February 2006 to issue its first arrest warrant in the investigation in the DRC, against Thomas Lubunga, President of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), a political movement composed of members of the Hema ethnic group. Thomas Lubunga is alleged to have established the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC), in September 2002, as the military wing of the UPC, and to have immediately become its Commander-in-Chief. The arrest warrant contains charges of war crimes concerning the large-scale recruitment and use of child soldiers in hostilities in the region of Ituri, between July 2002 and December 2003.

FIDH welcomes this first arrest warrant to be issued in the investigation in the DRC, and particularly the decision to prosecute the war crime of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.

Thomas Lubanga was arrested on 19 March 2005 by the DRC authorities and was held in custody in Kinshasa. The ICC arrest warrant was kept under seal and transmitted to the DRC authorities on 14 March 2006. On 17 March 2006, the DRC had already executed the warrant, Thomas Lubanga had been transferred to the authority of the ICC, and the Pre-Trial Chamber authorized the arrest warrant to be made public. "This first arrest warrant of the International Criminal Court is welcomed", said Sidiki Kaba, President of FIDH.

FIDH stressed that this is a significant new stage in the proceedings initiated by the ICC to pursue those responsible for serious crimes under international law committed in the DRC. "The fight against impunity in the DRC must continue, and this arrest warrant must represent only a first step towards the arrest of others responsible for the serious crimes which continue to pervade Ituri and the whole of the DRC", said Sidiki Kaba, President of FIDH.

FIDH calls on the DRC, as well as all State Parties to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, to cooperate fully with the ICC, including in the arrest, detention and transfer of other suspects to The Hague in the ongoing investigation in the DRC. Those bearing the greatest responsibility for crimes under international law must be the first targets of prosecution.

FIDH supports the Pre-Trial Chamber’s request to states to identify, trace and seize or freeze property and assets belonging to Thomas Lubanga, in order to secure the enforcement of future reparations awards. As the Chamber emphasized, "The success of the Court is, to some extent, linked to the success of its reparation system" [1].

FIDH reminds states parties of their obligation to cooperate with the ICC to ensure the effective protection of victims and witnesses. FIDH, which transmitted the first applications for participation from victims in the DRC investigation, (granted on 17 January 2006 by Pre-Trial Chamber (I) [2]), considers that this first arrest warrant represents an important first step in the recognition of the suffering of thousands of victims of grave crimes committed in the DRC.

Established in 1998 by the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court began its activities in 2002. The Court has jurisdiction over the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed since 1 July 2002, when the Statute entered into force. The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has been conducting inquiries into the situation in the DRC since July 2003. In September 2003, the OTP indicated its intention to open an investigation in DRC on its own initiative, and called for the support of the DRC government. On 3 March 2004, by letter, the President of DRC referred the situation in the DRC to the International Criminal Court. On 16 June 2004, the Office of the Prosecutor opened the investigation into serious crimes committed in the territory of DRC since 1 July 2002.

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