Videos to combat mass crimes

Stories

In 2017, Belgium financed a unique project initiated by TRIAL International in eastern DRC: promoting the use of photo and video evidence to punish mass crimes. Working with local lawyers and international partners, the organisation made it possible to present incriminating videos in the trials of two militiamen who were striking in South Kivu.

The context

In May 2012, the villages of Lumenje and Kamananga (South Kivu) suffered violent attacks by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed group active in eastern DRC. More than 40 people were killed, several wounded and houses and a primary school were plundered and set alight. The reason: the villagers' alleged support for a rival militia to the FDLR.

The solution

003-TrialApp_proc%C3%A8s%20Kamananga2.jpgIn 2017, TRIAL International started to work on this case as part of the Task Force for International Criminal Justice[1]. It enlisted the expertise of two NGOs: WITNESS, which specialises in using videos to defend human rights, and eyeWitness to Atrocities, which has developed a unique tool for recording, archiving and authenticating videos for legal proceedings.

Together, these organisations have helped victims' lawyers - a first in the DRC. The three NGOs have used their complementary skills to help the lawyers of civil parties to collect the most incriminating evidence, including videos. They have trained them in the presentation of audio-visual evidence and visited Lumenje and Kamananga with them to collect images.

On 23 August 2018, the trial of FDLR commanders Kabumbre and Rafiki Castro opened in Kalehe (South Kivu). To back up the accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the lawyers presented the audiovisual evidence collected with the help of TRIAL International.

Guy Mushiata, TRIAL International's Human Rights Coordinator for DRC, attended the trial :

When the videos were shown, the atmosphere in the courtroom changed completely. Images are a very powerful vector for reporting the brutality of crimes and the level of violence suffered by the victims.

The result

A few weeks later, justice triumphed: the two commanders were found guilty of murder and acts of torture that constituted crimes against humanity. The hundred or so victims who were party to the proceedings were awarded compensation of 5,000 to 25,000 USD.

Impunity is extremely widespread in DRC, including within the command of armed groups", said a manager of the Great Lakes desk for TRIAL International, when the verdict was announced. "This case sends a clear message to anyone committing abuse who thinks that their military power puts them above the law. 

TRIAL International is continuing its work to promote the use of audiovisual evidence to combat international crimes, and has published a manual for practitioners on the admissibility of evidence.

Ressurce(s)

  • Photo report © TRIAL International
  • Read the joint interview with TRIAL International and WITNESS on their audiovisual project in DRC.
  • Watch the video shown at the Kamananga trial

Partner(s)

  • TRIAL International
  • WITNESS

[1] The Task Force for International Criminal Justice is an informal network of international stakeholders who work together to support the work of the Congolese military authorities in investigating and indicting the perpetrators of mass crimes in South Kivu.