The trial for the massacre of Mutarule opened on 12 August 2016 and has been the theatre of tensions, resulting in delays in the mobile court hearings.
No less than 92 victims have taken part in this trial of titanic proportions. In the dock, two FARDC commanders and one Barundi leader, suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They could be criminally liable for their own actions or that of their subordinate. Out of the four others individuals initially indicted, two are dead and two will be judged in a separate procedure.
From day one, the TRIAL-led coalition of lawyers representing victims has be confronted with a challenge: the Commander of the FARDC regiment implicated in the Mutarule attacks had been barred by the prosecution from the list of indicted and presented as a simple witness. Shortly after the Court had decided put him back in the dock, following 3-days of intense debate, the Commander was found dead in front of his house. Hearings have since carried in an extremely tense atmosphere.
Key questions remain unanswered
The attacks on Mutarule have taken place in a long-running ethnic conflict in the Ruzizi valley. The question of genocide was therefore mentioned by both the Court and the parties during hearings. Will the accused indeed face charges of genocide? That is uncertain, as the burden of proof for such crime is extremely high, and Congolese courts rarely retain them. Should the Court decide to do so, its decision would constitute a key precedent.
Another question yet to be answered is the qualification of the conflict as a non-international armed conflict. The Court’s judgment on the point will be crucial: without this qualification, no war crime charges could be retained.
In spite of all these difficulties, the trial of Mutarule constitutes one more step towards fighting mass atrocities committed in Eastern Congo.