The videos are in French, the language of Congo’s government, although few of the teenagers in the room speak it well. Furthermore, Kuyaku, who comes from another part of the country, does not speak Swahili, eastern Congo’s lingua franca. After showing the videos, he talks animatedly in a mixture of French and another Congolese language, Lingala, which a sprinkling of those in the audience know, while an assistant intermittently translates a few sentences into Swahili.
Kuyaku explains that the court presumes everyone innocent until proven guilty and that it can try people from any country. Mindful that complex war-crimes cases can drag on (Slobodan Milošević had been on trial four years when he died), the ICC, he says, has charged Lubanga only with conscripting or enlisting child soldiers, in order to simplify matters—and to help highlight this practice as a violation of international law. Surely, I think, that goal will resonate with this particular audience.
When the Q&A period begins, however, most of the teenagers who speak up are anything but enthusiastic. Why is Lubanga on trial, one asks, when “others who did the same thing are working within the government?” And indeed this is true, for in a series of half-effective peace accords, many former warlords have been absorbed into the corrupt and inept Congolese national army.
“Lubanga did not conscript forcibly,” another boy says. “We went voluntarily. I myself went voluntarily. It was to defend my community. Why is he being judged for this?” A comrade adds: “I also was not forced to enter [Lubanga’s army]. All our houses were burned. We had nowhere to go—and Lubanga accepted me.”
“What about those who killed Saddam Hussein?” another boy asks. “Why are they not at The Hague?”
I encounter more frustration with the Lubanga trial from others I talk to during a week in Ituri. “The ICC has taken the small fish,” says one critic, Abbé Alfred Buju, who is in charge of peace and social-justice issues for the Catholic Diocese of Bunia, “leaving the big fish because they’re in positions of power.” The big fish would include generals and cabinet ministers from Uganda and Rwanda whose support of the militias here did much to prolong and intensify the fighting, while their countries helped themselves to Ituri gold. (Rwanda supplied Lubanga with mortars, machine guns, ammunition, and trainers; Uganda, at different times, supported him and his opponents.) But both regimes are big favorites of the United States, and in choosing whom to indict, in Congo and elsewhere, the ICC has trod carefully to avoid antagonizing the U.S.
At another session where Nicolas Kuyaku shows his videos, this time to Bunia municipal officials, I find myself wondering about the sheer visuals on the screen. We see the court’s headquarters in Holland, in two high-rise towers with an all-glass sky bridge between them. We see, in the spacious, wood-paneled courtroom itself, every official or attorney sitting in a comfortable rolling chair in front of a computer screen. But computers are a luxury here in Bunia, and the few that can be found are hostage to erratic electricity. And when Kuyaku explains some of the features that to Western eyes seem hallmarks of a humane and enlightened judiciary—such as the court’s provision of funds for Lubanga’s lawyers and for visits by his wife and family—these things surely appear even more extravagant. Africans are so desperate to migrate to Europe that thousands have drowned at sea trying, yet an accused war criminal’s wife and kids get a free trip? What’s more, all three judges who are deciding Lubanga’s fate, from Britain, Bolivia, and Costa Rica, are white. The trial is “justice à l’occidentale,” one of the local officials says, shaking his head at the screen.