The 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.