DRC: Military trial and death penalty fears mount for 41 detained after Goma airport attack
There are mounting fears that a group of 41 suspects detained since early June are soon to face a military trial, including the risk of the death penalty, following their recent transfer into military custody, Amnesty International warned.
On 5 August the detainees were transferred to a military prison, following their arrest in a security clampdown two months ago after gunmen attacked Goma airport and other parts of the city on 2 June. They had been held for more than 60 days without being brought before a civilian judge at the Agence Nationale des Renseignements (ANR) Detention Centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they were held incommunicado and forced to sleep on concrete floors.
A fair trial before a civilian court which meets international human rights standards, including the right to appeal and other remedies, is paramount.
“Arrested in the crackdown after the assault on Goma airport and charged with ‘insurrection’ and other offences, the detainees now run the risk of facing the death penalty in a trial conducted in a military court,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the East, Great Lakes and Horn of Africa.
“A fair trial before a civilian court which meets international human rights standards, including the right to appeal and other remedies, is paramount.”
The 41 suspects, mostly civilians other than four police officers and two members of the Congolese army, were transferred from the ANR to the office of the military prosecutor of North Kivu, linked to a military court.
“This transfer raisesthe high possibility that the suspects could face trial by a military court which denies their right to legal remedies, including the right of appeal,” said Sarah Jackson.
“The jurisdiction of military courts over criminal cases should be limited to trials of military personnel for breaches of military discipline, not for ordinary crimes or crimes under international law or human rights violations. In addition, international law prohibits the trial of civilians in military courts under any circumstance".”
On 2 June, Goma airport and some parts of the city were attacked allegedly by an armed movement named “Union des patriotes congolais pour la paix” (UPCP) led by Célestin Kambale Malonga. At least four people including two members of the Presidential Guard in charge of airport security were killed in the attack. From 3 June the Goma attack suspects including Célestin Kambale Malonga were arrested. The Congolese security forces including the presidential guard, the military police and the ANR arrested at least 75 people. The arrested were detained at the ANR Detention Centre in Goma. Several people were subsequently released but the 41 suspects remained in in detention.
The detainees spent over 60 days in preventive detention at the ANR detention centre in violation of Article 18(3) of the Congolese constitution, which stipulates that “preventive detention shall never exceed 48 hours”. They were also denied access to family and legal representation.
Article 87 of the Congolese Statute on the Cour militaire operationelle provides that any rulings made by the military court cannot be appealed. This article contravenes both Article 21 of the Congolese constitution and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the DRC is party since 1976 – both guarantee the right of appeal.
Even though the DRC has not carried out any executions since 2003, the Goma detainees face a real threat of being handed the death penalty.
At the time of their arrest in June, Amnesty International urged the Congolese government to grant them access to lawyers and family visits and for due process to be followed as stipulated by international law.