Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Will there be any justice for the Congo?

In all of the drama of the UN mapping report, most of the media have forgotten what the report was intended to do: hold the perpetrators accountable, provide the Congolese with some justice for all the crimes that have been committed.

So what are the chances that there will be justice?

Whatever chances there were have been somewhat diminished by the Congolese government's official reaction, a 51-page document. Parts of their response praise the mapping report, saying that it "honors the victims and puts into perspective to the truth, reparations and the guarantee of non-occurrence (sic)." Elsewhere the government seem to nitpick, saying that the report did not deal with the "massive abuses carried out by MONUC," in particular the "massive rapes" against Congolese women. (The report dealt with the period between 1993-2003; most reported MONUC abuses happened after June 2003, although not all of them). They do, however, rightly ask about the responsibility of outside countries - one can only assume western ones - that did not carry out the abuses but financially supported the countries that did.

But the important message comes only on page 48, when it responds to the recommendation to create a mixed court, as in Sierra Leone, to judge the most serious crimes committed during the war. The Congolese government appears to reject this recommendation, saying that it could cause "seriously damaging discrimination against judges and other judicial officials," presumably because they would subjected to outside interference. Instead, they suggest creating "specialized chambers" within the Congolese justice system.

I don't find this convincing - the Congolese justice system is barely functional due to lack of resources and interference by the executive. Any credible tribunal would have to be independent, both financially as well as politically, and able to investigate anything within its mandate. Nonetheless, the language used by the government leaves some room for compromise - they don't say as much, but I could image that there could be foreign judges or prosecutors, and their work could be independently financed, albeit within the confines of the Congolese judiciary.

As for the truth and reconciliation commission, the government seems to dismiss the idea, asking whether this could be useful in a country with a democratically elected parliament, which could set up "an ad hoc commission to establish the truth about the abuses committed between 1885 and today." Just as a reminder, the South African TRC was set up under a democratically elected government. And setting up a commission to review all of the abuses - and there were many - since 1885 seems to be a recipe for doing nothing.

We will have to see whether anybody outside of the NGO community takes up the cause of a mixed tribunal or a TRC. I have my doubts. Perhaps a compromise will be reached in maintaining another, less intrusive recommendation made by the team: A vetting out of abusive officials from the security services. Or maybe not even that.


Tony said...

I do not understand why a tribunal with external supervision would garantee a better justice then a Congolese tribunal. The most important crimes comitted in Congo between 1885-1990 were commited by external forces such as Belgium, the USA and France. And since 1998 the rwando-ugandan aression was supported by the US and tolerated by the European Union. The spirit of the Congolese respons is that crimes against humanity are jugdeable for ever. So, at a certan moment in the future when the Congolese people will be realy independant and free with a good constructed state and judicial apparatus, these crimes will be judged anyway. In the meantime, it will be by compromises that little by litle justice wil be done, at the condition this does not affect peace. Since this was the "solution" the famous international community has imposed on Congo in the Lusaka-agreement in 1999, I can live with that. By the way : the rule "you must reconciliate yourself with your butchers" was a rule already imposed at the conclave of Lovanium when the butchers of Lumumba could recuperate he legitmate power of the government of Stanleyville led by Gizenga.

james said...

To Tony: the mistakes and crimes of the past should not be an excuse for the crimes and mistakes of the present. You really should know that the Congolese political and judicial system lacks the capacities to deal with the issues of justice and reconciliation. You're right in the sense that Belgium, the US and other countries should acknowledge their responsibility in the things that went wrong in the more distant past.

Tony said...

James, I am well aware about the situation af the congolese state and the judiciary. But I do not see how this should change what I wrote here above.
In what way the Arusha tribunal was able to deal with the crimes commited by the RPF, for example? How such a special international tribunal will be more just and able to reconciliate people, when this was not possible for the tribunal for Rwanda?
I think the only justice will be given by the people when they have a real sovereign state that represents the people. And if this state doesn't exist today, it will exist one day in the future. Meanwhile, it is better to work with the congolese state as it is, this is 100 times better as the pseudo-justice that is given by showtribunals who are not realy independant from those who pay and from international power relations.

Sam Gardner said...

What leads to justice is normally the demand for justice. Once this demand is strong enough, it will be satisfied. Latin American countries passed blanket amnesty laws for abuses by the military, to have them revoked once the democratic government felt strong enough and the call for justice too loud.

Unknown said...

"In what way the Arusha tribunal was able to deal with the crimes commited by the RPF, for example?"

In what way were the Nuremburg Trials able to deal with the crimes committed by the Allies, for example? When is Churchill's descendents or the British Trial going to be brought to trial for Dresden?

In what way were the war-crimes trials against the Japanese after WWII able to deal with the crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

One standard for the Westerners, another for the rest. A colonialist attitude dressed up as humanitarian concern, methinks.

Fred said...

Could you post a link to the Congolese Government's report


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