International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

2118453159The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a zone of political upheaval and armed conflict for the better part of the last twenty years, and as such its population has been subjected to blatant instances of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as indications of genocide. Regardless of recent relative stabilization in the country, two provinces continue to struggle with atrocity. Thousands of people are continually displaced from the two Kivu provinces, and civilians are being raped and massacred while their homes and schools are destroyed and looted. The Mai Mai militia has perpetrated many of the rapes, killings, mutilations, and abductions in the past two decades of conflict, and on January 6, of 2011, a Congolese arrest warrant was issued for the the militia’s leader, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka.

In a blatant show of impunity, Sheka openly traveled to Goma in July of 2011 for health treatments and ran for parliament in November, conducting his campaign across the country’s Walikale territory. There are suspicions that Sheka, along with other war criminals in the region, are kept abreast of all military operations, participate in the exploitation of regions to trade their resources, and receive arms and ammunition when needed.

Typically, this would be a case for the International Criminal Court, especially when we consider the country’s signing and ratification of the Rome Statute in 2002. Unfortunately, the legislation of the ICC was never successfully implemented in the DRC due to the neglect of the transitional government in power at the time and the tabling of subsequent proposals. Instead, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide have been adjudicated by a system of military tribunals since 2002. In response to concerns for the legal rights of those involved in the tribunals, the DRC gave the 12 provincial Courts of Appeals the power to hear cases concerning atrocities in 2013. The ICC is also working to utilize temporary legislation in the country to adjudicate the crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DRC has seen little progress in the pursuit for justice within the country. Proposals for specialized tribunals like those established in Cambodia have been abandoned, and the government has largely ignored the crimes committed before the signing of the Rome Statute. All of this demonstrates that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is struggling with a significant impunity problem, and the absence of justice will continue until national and international leaders shift their focus to prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide.

I wonder how the justice system in the DRC would evolve were the ICC to reach out to the current government regarding the lack of permanent national legislation supporting the charter of the court, or if stronger powers in the international community were to voice support for the establishment of specialized tribunals to address acts of atrocity and to adjudicate perpetrators of such crimes. Impunity is a national problem that is perpetuated throughout all levels of the government, and it will likely take international voices to change the landscape of justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


2 responses to “Impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. ah2017intjustice February 23, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    The impunity problem in the DRC is, in part, a manifestation of the power of global politics in the pursuit of justice. Consistent with Michael Ignatieff’s argument in the impunity debate, little is being done to bring justice to the victims in the DRC because none of the major powers have made it a priority. In fact, several countries have reason to avoid demanding justice for the atrocities. Much of the violence in the Congo is attributable to proxy forces crossing the border from Rwanda. In the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide, many Hutu’s fled across the border to the Congo – both those who committed the genocide and those in fear of reprisal killings in the aftermath of the genocide. This Rwandan ethnic violence spilled over to the DRC and triggered civil war. Currently, Rwandan proxy forces are still active in the Congo, but likely due to economic motivations. As long as the eastern part of the DRC stays unstable, it is easier for Rwandan forces to exploit the Congo’s rich natural resources, maintaining control of valuable mines. The international community is aware of Rwanda’s continued role in the instability and violence in the Congo, but they are largely turning a blind eye because the international community feels indebted to Rwanda due to the initial denial of and failure to stop the genocide. Maintaining stability in Rwanda by not challenging the current administration has been prioritized over demanding accountability and justice for the atrocities committed in the DRC.

  2. ckoos March 1, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    I agree with both of the arguments made, but believe that it’s necessary to emphasize that the impunity problem is largely a result of the DRC’s status as a ‘failed state.’ The Congolese government and elites have long promoted a weak governance structure, so as not to interfere with their primary goal of exploiting natural resources for their own benefit. This has caused the decentralization of power to various warlords or strongmen– who have gained legitimacy by providing various public goods to local populations throughout the state– paired with the largely ungovernable, and destabilizing, intervention of regional powers like Rwanda. Thus, both government action and the consequences of these policies remain principally responsible for driving the state to failure and for preserving it in this state of collapse. These problems are intrinsically tied to the DRC’s rich mineral wealth, which, in lieu of legitimate government regulation, is frequently exploited and laundered through other states in the region. Congolese rebels as well as Rwanda and Burundi have made millions from this illicit trade, frequently exporting their contraband to Dubai and to the Western world.

    Relatively new initiatives, conceived around 2012, seek to investigate this trade, to ensure that minerals in the global market are indeed ‘conflict-free.’ Specifically in the United States, Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act took effect in May 2014, requiring companies to publish an annual report detailing the supply chain of their mineral trade. Similar initiatives were taken by the EU in 2013 to investigate conflict minerals.

    This poses some critical questions for the field of international justice. If the Western world has indeed been financially supporting the mass atrocities in the Congo– resulting in over five million deaths, millions of displaced citizens, and the rape of millions of women and girls– how should, or could, these countries be held responsible? Will this conflict, ‘the bloodiest since WWII,’ ever truly be resolved? What will come first– restoring the state or ending impunity?

    Because the ICC is financially dependent upon many of these global powers, it is inconceivable that they will ever be tried by the court for crimes related to conflict minerals. Additionally, I believe that impunity problems will only begin to be combated once the state recovers from its current ‘failed’ status. Unfortunately, it seems as though support and aid from the international community will be necessary for this to occur. In this sense, ‘justice’ may be a necessary sacrifice for the congolese civilians to make in order to facilitate longterm and effective externally-supported statebuilding in the DRC.

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