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Bringing historical crimes to justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

In September 2018, a military tribunal in the DRC found two commanders of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) guilty of murder and torture, both constituting crimes against humanity. The verdict was given after the court received condemning photo and video evidence captured with the eyeWitness to Atrocities camera app.

eyeWitness to Atrocities (eyeWitness), together with TRIAL International, WITNESS,and Action pour la Restauration de la Paix et la Justice (ARPJ)formed an NGO consortium that worked closely with the lawyers of Congolese victims to collect evidence to build the case.

The Affaire Castro et Kizito

© TRIAL International / Augustin Safari Macumu

Atrocities in South Kivu

In 2012, two villages in South Kivu, Lumenje and Kamananga, were brutally attacked, looted and burnt to the ground by an FDLR unit led by two commanders, Gilbert Ndayambaje and Evariste Nizehimana. A total of 48 people were killed. Many were left wounded. Some suffered amputations.

Whilst photos of the aftermath were captured at the time by ARPJ, they were not all done systematically and difficult to verify. Without being able to prove that the photos were taken when and where they were claimed to be, their evidential weight was limited.

A landmark case for the use of mobile device footage as evidence of core international crimes

Five years later, eyeWitness technology captured verifiable photos and videos that helped corroborate these historical photos and witness testimony.

A total of 92 images were taken with the eyeWitness camera app to help prove the contextual and material elements of murder and torture. These included photos of individual and mass graves, as well as the injuries of surviving victims. The embedded metadata confirmed the locations of the graves and villages. The footage and metadata, along with witness statements and other documentary evidence, were key to building the case against the two commanders.

Ndayambaje and Nizehimana were found guilty of murder and torture, both constituting crimes against humanity, as well as pillage and arson. All 100 victims party to the proceedings were awarded reparations ranging from 5,000 USD to 25,000 USD.

The court affirmed that the footage was given significant weight in the decision to convict the defendants. According to Guy Mushiata, DRC Human Rights Coordinator for TRIAL International, “When the footage was shown, the atmosphere in court switched dramatically.”

The case was a historical moment for both survivors and international criminal law. Not only was it the first time that a court of law admitted digital footage captured with a mobile device as evidence of core international crimes, but it was also the first time a court of law admitted footage taken with eyeWitness technology.