Shining verdict in the Kokodikoko case (DRC)
Three former militiamen, including the infamous warlord Kokodikoko, have been condemned for crimes against humanity. The Congolese State was also found liable for failing to protect the affected civilian populations. An exemplary verdict which comes as a relief to hundreds of victims… as long as it is actually enforced.
On 19 November 2019, the Bukavu Garrison Court (South Kivu) found three former militiamen guilty of crimes against humanity. They received heavy prison sentences, ranging from 15 years to a life sentence for the head of the group, Kokodikoko. The judges recognized the crimes of murder, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual violence and enslavement the three men inflicted for months on civilians in several villages in South Kivu.
Victims were awarded compensations and access to medical and psychological care. Over 300 of them took part in the hearings, the majority of whom had suffered sexual violence. Although several renounced to testify for fear of retaliation, holding hearings directly on the crimes scenes undeniably encouraged their participation.
Read more about this trial of epic proportion
An exemplary decision: the Congolese State was found civilly liable
Despite the fact that the accused were part of a non-State group,the Congolese State was also found liable and should compensate the victims if the culprits cannot. Why? Because it has failed to take all necessary measures to prevent these crimes, thereby falling short of its obligation to protect its own population.
This is no detail, as Kokodikoko and his accomplices will probably be unable to compensate the victims. It will be up to the State to fill this gap, ensuring that reparations orders are actually enforced.
“This decision is a step in the right direction but we are now waiting to see whether it will materialize” says Chiara Gabriele, Legal Advisor for TRIAL International in Bukavu. “Precedents have shown that the State was unwilling to compensate victims, even when the judges have ordered it.”
For this reason, TRIAL International will continue supporting the victims after the trial has ended. “Justice is not just about punishment: it must also include a rehabilitative dimension” concludes Chiara Gabriele.
One more victory in the fight against armed groups
President Felix Tshisekedi, elected at the end of 2018, has made the fight against armed militias one of the priorities of his program. This new condemnation – the seventh in five years – helps to reinforce the rule of law in regions which remained prey, until now, to local warlords.
TRIAL International, in the framework of the Task force for international justice, contributes to this long-term endeavor. The organization has participated in several major cases against non-state armed groups: Marocain and his accomplice “106”, Mutarule, Minova, the ongoing trial against Sheka in North Kivu and of course the famous Kavumu case in 2017.
“All these victories demonstrate that justice is achievable in DRC. Impunity is not a fatality as long as the Congolese authorities, with the help of all its partners, put in the necessary efforts” says Guy Mushiata, National Coordinator for TRIAL International in DRC.
The main accused in the trial, Kokodikoko, was arrested in spring 2019 during a joint stabilization operation between the Congolese military and MONUSCO.