DRC: Seven years after the crimes, Lieutenant-Colonel Safari Kateatea Amos finally condemned
It will have taken seven years for this Colonel of the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) to be brought before the judges. Safari Kateatea Amos, who is accused of crimes against humanity on dozens of civilians, finally appeared before the courts in November 2019. The result of a long-standing struggle that illustrates the impunity of FARDC officers.
For years, the villagers of Karimba and Musinziro (Kabare territory, South Kivu) have been at the mercy of the clashes opposing the regular army and the armed groups FDLR and Raia Mutomboki.
In 2012, growing insecurity forced civilians to take refuge in the village of Lwizi, which was at the time under the control of FARDC Colonel Safari Kateatea Amos. The latter assured them that peace had been restored and that they could return to their villages. Before their departure, Safari Kateatea Amos gave them his word that he would visit them. As a sign of his arrival, he would fire a few bullets into the air.
The FARDC, protectors or executioners?
On 21 July 2012, at around 5 a.m., the villagers of Karimba and Musinziro were surprised by the arrival of FARDC soldiers under Safari Kateatea Amos’ command. Recalling the agreed signal, civilians did not even try to protect themselves.
But this was a lure: Safari Kateatea Amos and his men ferociously attacked the villagers they were supposed to protect. Hundreds of victims were killed, raped, tortured, their homes burned down and their property looted.
A high-ranking army officer, the accused thought himself untouchable
Safari Kateatea Amos’ rank as a colonel shielded him from prosecution for several years. He had even been arrested in 2012, but liberated for reasons as yet unknown.
But in May 2019, the relentless action of the Task Force for International Criminal Justice in South Kivu* finally paid off. The military prosecution authorities in South Kivu arrested Safari Kateatea Amos and handed him over to justice once again. The trial began in November in Bukavu.
As the trial approached, TRIAL International experts helped the victims’ lawyers to document the crimes in a rigorous way, to prove their widespread and systematic nature. More than 40 victims of murder, rape, torture and looting were thus added to the case file. TRIAL International also contributed to the legal strategy of the victims’ lawyers, both prior to and during the trial.
Convicted despite his military rank
On December 19, 2019, Colonel Kateatea was sentenced to 5 years in prison for crimes against humanity. The Court established the murder, rape, torture and other inhumane acts committed by the battalion under his command. Indeed, his responsibility as a superior was recognized, but not his direct involvement in the commission of the crimes. In addition, despite the gravity of the crimes committed, his lack of training was recognized as a mitigating circumstance. Although the sentence handed down is rather lenient, the rights of the victims have not been affected. The DRC and the defendant – who is a State agent – were ordered to pay reparations to all the victims in the proceedings (almost 100 people).
Despite the progress of justice in eastern RDC, few cases are of concern to senior army officers.
* The Task Force is an informal network of international actors who collaborate to support the work of Congolese military courts in the investigation and prosecution of mass crimes in DRC.