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In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—a country currently at the bottom of the Human Development Index—the sentencing of Germain Katanga at the International Criminal Court (ICC) this past week has brought mixed reactions.

The Court convicted the former commander of the Forces de Résistance for his role in the February 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro in North-Eastern DRC that resulted in the deaths of over 200 people.

Conflict has consumed this area of the DRC, and more specifically the Ituri region, for years. The power struggle stems from the drive to control the local natural resources, namely gold. Approximately 130,000-150,000 persons in Ituri alone mine gold, often working over 12 hours a day.

High gold taxes and exploitation of small-scale miners prevents many from achieving a decent standard of living. This, in partnership with low agricultural production, produces hunger throughout the population.

Of the two convictions the ICC has realized since its inception, both defendants committed their crimes in Ituri. Critics of the Court point to the prevalence of indicted African leaders as an example of political influence. The failure to enforce their indictments, as in the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, has weakened the Court’s credibility.

Signatory states to the ICC’s Rome Statute can also refer certain cases to the Office of the Prosecutor, which means governments may use the Court as a weapon against political opponents rather than a source of justice. Critics have also questioned the influence of the West on the Court, considering 60 percent of ICC funding comes from the European Union.

The ICC appears to be arriving at a crossroads between political showcase and legitimate enforcer of the law. Were the Court to gain its intended footing on the international stage, it would have the opportunity to affect change in the DRC. Deterrence aside, criminal trials allow victims to finally describe their experiences, which can help in the process of national reconciliation.

Implementing law promotes the stability that could do little to harm an economy destroyed by years of warfare. Each trial brings media coverage that can be harnessed to advocate for aid to the DRC. Regardless, the relationship between the ICC and the DRC will be interesting to watch in the coming years.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Brookings, European Commission, International Policy Digest, IRIN, La Presse, World Bank