Congolese warlord Germain Katanga is symbol of dysfunctional justice system

February, 2003. “A bunch of men arrived at Bogoro, a village in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The group of armed men invaded the houses, shooting the families in their sleep; beheading the people or burning the houses with their families still inside. No matter if they were men, women or kids, they were all dead at the end.”


The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor described the attack in the courts. His testimony was heard the past 7th of March, by the judges at the Netherland-based court that rule the case against Germain Katanga -allegedly a leader of one the one groups that committed the attack on Bogoro.


Katanga has been charged for three different crimes against humanity: namely murder; sexual slavery and rape, these added to the sentence for using child soldiers, which is considered a war crime.


The ICC is the first permanent international court that has the jurisdiction over grave human rights violations. The main issue about this prosecution is: why a such a serious crime has been in the waiting row for 7 years?


Even though 7 years sounds as an outstanding long time for a sentence, fact is that is an average number in Africa’s prisons. Those prisons are overloaded with criminals along with people without a trial and an extremely high violence rate due to the incompetence and corruption of justice systems. For example in Uganda, the prisons have a 257% overpopulation rate, according to the Non-profit organization African prisons.  Although some countries such as the UK is trying to provide legal support to the prisoners the fact is that in countries such as Cameroon where 4/5 of the inmates have not been subjected to trial.




Moreover the situation of the prisoners in Africa is deficient at it best. Due to the lack of official order the inmates have made their own rules not to coexist but to survive and as the officials say: “this set of rules function surprisingly well and helps to keep the prisoners controlled”. Another problem in these jails is the continued abuse, not to say torture, by the guards to recluses who are still waiting for their trial. These abuses enclose beating, electroshocks, denial of food or water, and in extreme cases, if the guards consider some of the inmates incorrigible they execute them without a trial. However, this is by far not the worst part about Africa’s legal system.

According to an ex-official, it was not weird to see 8 year old kids behind the bars.


All in all, Mr. Katanga’s case is just a wake up call to the international community to denounce Africa’s justice.


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