Sunday, November 15, 2015 |
Rights groups say witnesses who testified against Katanga should be protected.
THE HAGUE, Saturday
The International Criminal Court on Friday cut a 12-year term imposed on a Congolese militia leader for a brutal village attack, saying he would be freed in January.
Germain Katanga, 37, was sentenced to 12 years in prison last year after a massacre in a village in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
He was accused of supplying weapons in the 2003 ethnic attack in which 200 people were killed, some of them hacked to death.
Following an appeal from Katanga, a panel of three judges from the war crimes tribunal in The Hague reviewed his sentence and decided to reduce it to eight years and four months.
Including time served while awaiting trial, Katanga will complete his sentence on January 18.
The panel cited Katanga’s willingness to work with the court.
The judges also found he had “repeatedly and publicly taken responsibility for the crimes for which he was convicted, as well as expressed regret for the harm caused to the victims.”
The Ituri region where the Bogoro massacre occurred has been hit with violence since 1999, when clashes broke out that killed at least 60,000 people, according to rights groups.
And a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch said: “Katanga’s early release does not diminish the gravity of the crimes for which he was convicted.”
“The ICC should explain this decision to the affected communities and pave the way for Katanga’s return to DR Congo,” said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, HRW international justice advocacy-director.
A spokesman for the court said the judges’ decision could not be appealed, and the prosecution said it would not oppose his early release.
Arrested in the DR Congo in 2005 and then transferred to The Hague in 2007, Katanga was only the second person to be sentenced by the tribunal since it began work in 2003.
'SIMBA' THE LION
Last month, the man once dubbed “Simba” the lion because of his ferocity, exercised his right to appeal to the tribunal to grant him early release after spending two-thirds of his sentence.
Under ICC rules, time served in custody before sentencing is taken into account.
Katanga also offered his apologies to his victims, insisting he had turned his back on the militias which still wreak havoc in parts of the DR Congo.
“The immense pain of my victims is something which profoundly affects me,” Katanga said.
“I have heard their cries of pain and suffering with a feeling of regret and respect,” Katanga told the judges, adding that he too had lost his father and brother.
A former member of the armed fighters of the Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri, Katanga said he wanted to live with his six children in his country and be a farmer.
He added that he was prepared to work with the UN special mission in the country and the government to rein in residual groups of militias.
The judges said they had considered if Katanga’s release would “rise to some social instability in the DRC, but found no evidence to suggest that it would be of a significant level.”
However, HRW called on the court to monitor the security situation and ensure the safety of witnesses who testified against him.