In a report released today, “Time Works Against Justice: Ending Impunity in Eastern Congo,” the Enough Project looks at the historical precedent of a failed Congolese justice system and its far reaching effects on the peace and reconciliation process. The paper delves into the historical context for the culture of impunity in Congo and describes both the daily injustices and the blatantly egregious high-level examples of corruption that perpetuate a culture of fear, hopelessness, and resentment among the civilian population.
Co-authors Aaron Hall and Annette LaRocco take a detailed look at the structure of the Congolese justice system, attempted or proposed reforms, and how the organizational hierarchy of courts creates challenges to effectively charge and prosecute perpetrators responsible for human rights violations and war crimes.
To bring lasting peace and reconciliation to the region, Enough ultimately recommends a holistic approach to reform. To ensure Congolese participation and ownership of the process, these recommendations build on the Congolese and international community-led reforms already in place and promote initiatives that have potential but have been shelved by the Congolese government.
Hall and LaRocco make the following policy recommendations:
1. Adopt and implement the tabled Specialized Mixed Courts Law at once. It is imperative that grassroots pressure drives the adoption of this law in order to thwart any claims of unwanted external intervention. Implementation of the Mixed Courts Law will have a lasting impact on the long-term abilities of the Congolese justice system.
2. Expand the jurisdiction of mobile courts to include economic crimes like the exploitation of natural resources. In the short term, local ability to house and facilitate mobile courts should be bolstered. However, the ultimate goal should be increased local capacity and less reliance on mobile courts.
3. Push for the immediate arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. To the Congolese people in the East, Ntaganda’s continued presence and military authority is a stark reminder of the broken justice system.
4. View economic war crimes, such as the plundering and looting of natural resources, as legitimate war crimes. The United Nations, ICC, and Congolese government should expand judicial focus on these crimes and issue appropriate indictments.
5. Publicly support local Congolese groups and individuals advocating for the establishment of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, or TRCs. Open acknowledgement of past crimes is the critical first step to rebuilding confidence in the peace and justice process. It is imperative that these commissions be birthed in the local community and supported by the government.
Justice reform in Congo will not come quickly nor will it be easy, but it is central to achieving a sustainable peace for the people of the region. Meaningful reform of the judicial system will require immense political will, and politicians must abandon the false dichotomy between peace and justice.
“There has never been a systematic attempt to address the issue of impunity within the Congolese justice system,” said Aaron Hall, Enough Project Congo policy analyst and report co-author in a press release promoting the new report. “The lack of accountability for war crimes including the murder of civilians, rape, plunder, and extortion is one of the key obstacles to creating an environment for peace and development in eastern Congo.”
Read the full report: “Time Works Against Justice: Ending Impunity in Eastern Congo”
Photo: Courtroom in Goma during the hearing for Mayi Mayi Sheka commander Mayele (Enough / Fidel Bafilemba)