The former Congolese warlord, Roger Lumbala, remains in pre-trial detention at the health detention center. Arrested at the end of December in the capital, he has been indicted since January 2 for “Participation in a group formed for the preparation of crimes against humanity” and “Complicity in crimes against humanity”.
He briefly left his cell, Tuesday, January 19, transported to the courthouse in Paris. The former rebel, now 62, appeared before the investigating chamber of the Paris court of appeal. At the end of a hearing held behind closed doors, his request for release under judicial supervision was rejected.
The facts for which he is accused date back to the early 2000s. The political activist exiled in France, where he had obtained asylum during the previous decade, then joined the north-eastern borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC ), the scene of a bloody regional war. There he took up arms and led a rebel movement, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-National (RCD-N), for a time supported by neighboring Uganda.
Although few in number, the fighters under Mr. Lumbala’s orders are suspected by the United Nations of having committed abuses alongside the armed wing of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) led by its then ally, Jean -Pierre Bemba, another warlord.
617 serious crimes
Between October 2002 and January 2003, the two armed groups carried out the operation “Erase the picture” which turned into the massacre of civilians, in particular pygmies, as well as alleged acts of cannibalism. The UN has also documented the use of “Rape as a tactic of war” and notes in his “Mapping report” the use by elements of Mr. Bemba of“Organs of some of their victims [sexe et oreilles] as war trophies (…) shown to the population “.
The national anti-terrorism prosecution declared that this procedure targeting Mr. Lumbala is mainly based on the “Mapping report” carried out ten years ago by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. This document lists and analyzes 617 serious crimes committed between 1993 and 2003 in the DRC, but does not reveal, in its public version, the identities of the alleged perpetrators of these abuses. No leader of the armed groups involved in this war has been condemned and most of their leaders have subsequently held high political positions.
In his defense, Mr. Lumbala claims today that he did not have the “Effective control” of its combatants at the time of the alleged offenses and hopes that several witnesses can be questioned. “He formally denies having been at the head of the armed forces which committed the atrocities and the stake will be to establish the chain of command in which he claims to have had no role”, explain his lawyers Me Roxane Best et Me Antoine Van Rie.
The risk of flight, in Kenya or in Canada where two of his children reside, had already been invoked to justify his continued detention on remand. “A statute under judicial control or an electronic bracelet would be largely sufficient”, add his advice.
“An important step for international justice”
After the war, Mr. Lumbala became an ephemeral minister then deputy, senator, spokesperson for another rebel movement responsible for abuses and leader of a microparty which supports the current president Félix Tshisekedi.
In the meantime, in 2012, he had made a new asylum application in France, which was denied. The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) was not unaware of its alleged involvement in war crimes, which it challenged before the National Court of Asylum. In vain. It is the subject of a report from Ofpra to the crimes against humanity branch of the Paris prosecutor’s office. The investigation, which began in 2016, is entrusted to the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes against Humanity (OCLCH).
His arrest and provisional detention were hailed by Congolese human rights defenders. The gynecologist and activist, Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2018, welcomed “An important step for international justice”. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office sees this “An encouraging sign in the fight against impunity”.