Transitional Justice and (Post)Colonial Justice

This article is part of ASF’s 2022 annual report.

In collaboration with the Leuven Institute of Criminology, ASF published a series of articles examining the challenges and questions raised by the recent rise of processes to address the historical injustices of slavery and colonialism, particularly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

First initiatives, mostly still in their infancy, are emerging in former colonial countries. This is especially the case in contexts of settlement colonialism, probably because the lasting legacies of colonialism and historical injustices are even more visible and perceptible today in these countries.

More recently, we have also seen an intensification of political debates about reparation and justice measures to address colonial harms and injustices in countries that were involved in slave exploitation and commercial colonialism. Various commissions of enquiry have been set up in Belgium, France and the Netherlands to investigate the legacy of colonialism and to propose measures to address it – often leading to heated controversies over reparations and apologies.

These developments have prompted reflections in both academic and policy circles on the potential role that transitional justice can play in providing justice and redress for the historical and enduring injustices that stem from the colonial past. Traditionally, transitional justice refers to a range of measures and initiatives put in place in countries that have experienced armed conflicts or repressive regimes to provide a response to past human rights violations and injustices. Mobilising transitional justice as a response to colonial wrongs therefore implies broadening the traditional boundaries of transitional justice, including considering its application in Western countries and expanding the conceptions of “injustices” and “responsibilities” it mobilises. It also requires a critical reflection on the anchoring of transitional justice in postcolonial normative and political frameworks. Without engaging in this reflection, transitional justice may be guilty of perpetuating the structural injustices and power imbalances that it intends to combat.

The contributions to this special series have examined some of the challenges and questions that all these initiatives and reflections raise. In particular, they question the relevance of transitional justice as a framework for dealing with the colonial past and the kind of historical redress model that transitional justice can offer. Drawing on the experiences of various countries, the articles question the effectiveness of well-established transitional justice mechanisms – truth commissions, reparations, trials, commemoration, guarantees of non-repetition – in achieving justice and redress for historical and long-lasting injustices, as well as in dealing with the intergenerational trauma of colonialism. What emerges from these reflections is that while transitional justice can be useful for historical reparation, it faces political constraints (as is also often the case for transitional justice applied in more paradigmatic contexts) and requires a reshaping of its normative and ideological frames.

In June 2022, Valérie Arnould, legal and policy advisor in transitional justice at ASF, intervened before the Special Parliamentary Commission on the Belgian Colonial Past. ASF was able to share its experience in transitional justice and made recommendations, notably on the opportunity to grant reparations to the populations of countries formerly colonised by Belgium and their diasporas.

ASF’s 2022 annual report

Transitional Justice & Historical Redress

ExPEERience Talk #9 – Using digital to support victims and promote justice: the Back-up project of We are NOT Weapons of War

  • When? Thursday, 4 May 20231pm (Brussels)
  • Language of the presentation: French
  • Online (Big Blue Button)

For this 9th ExPEERience Talk, we are delighted to welcome Céline Bardet, founder of the organisation We are NOT Weapons of War (WWOW) whose mandate is to fight sexual violence in conflicts, in particular against rape as a weapon of war. She will talk about the importance, in the face of these issues, of support – particularly legal – for victims, but also of awareness-raising and advocacy on a global scale.

During this Talk, Céline Bardet will present the development process of the Back Up project, launched by WWOW in 2018. This project aims to address the three major challenges posed by war rape: the inability for victims to access appropriate services; the lack of coordination of the professionals involved; and the lack of reliable data on the extent of sexual violence in conflicts. It is a digital tool, accessible on mobile phones, encrypted and secure, which allows victims to report and transmit evidence, and professionals involved to better coordinate. After an initial pilot phase, Back Up is now being deployed in several countries, including Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This Talk will be an opportunity to present the genesis of the project, as well as the development and functioning of the tool. What was the process used to make it a tool that best meets the real needs of victims and that can be easily used by everyone, even in the most fragile contexts? How can we ensure the security of the data collected andthe security of the victims? What is the process for the appropriation of the tool, in wartime contexts, by local partners and victims? Céline Bardet will discuss the development methodology and the scope of this digital project, which serves not only the victims but also the collection of evidence and data and, ultimately, advocacy against sexual violence in conflicts.

Thomas Kwoyelo trial: Prosecution moves close to wind-up presenting its witness

ASF working with victims

“Any further delay with this trial is a dark spot on our part as Judiciary” – ICD

The Trial of Thomas Kwoyelo resumed on 17th April 2023 and is scheduled to run up to the end of the month at the International Crimes Division of the High Court (ICD) sitting at Gulu High Court in Gulu City, Northern Uganda.

Having commenced the trial on 24th September 2018, the court had its first prosecution witnesses testify in March 2019 and since then trial sessions have been held periodically between Kampala and Gulu. The most recent was in Gulu between 28th November and 15th December 2022 where 14 prosecution witnesses were prepared and presented to substantiate the grounds against the accused, bringing the total number to 48 prosecution witnesses so far.

In an interview with a member of the prosecution team he confirmed that the case has close to 120 witnesses but that not all of these will be presented, to avoid repetitive evidence.

“We are reviewing available evidence and picking the best among the pool. Some Witnesses are aging and losing memory while others have since passed on, so from what is available, we evaluate and pick the best from the stock”

Counsel Charles Kamuli- Prosecution team member

It is hoped that within these two weeks, Prosecution will be able to close presenting its witnesses. This will pave way for the defense team to begin presenting their own witnesses in the next sessions later in the quarter pending availability of funds. Later there will be a victims’ session where the victims’ counsel will present their own witnesses.

Thomas Kwoyelo, captured in 2009 by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, is arguably one of the longest-accused persons on pre-trial detention in the history of International Criminal Justice. To ensure that the case progresses, the ICD set a timeframe of holding quarterly sessions, but there has been a lack of consistency in practice. However, the court believes it can conclude the case within one and a half years, provided that funds continue to be released quarterly as planned.  “This delay is a dark spot on our part as the judiciary in as far as justice is concerned”, said the Head of the ICD who is also an alternate judge in this case.  “The victims are so concerned, and so is the accused; he is not being tried as he should, having been in incarceration since 2009. Now that the government has committed resources, we are all committed to pushing the case forward” the Head of the ICD remarked.

The defense team though, in a separate interview, held a different viewpoint on the timeframe within which this trial will be concluded given the uniqueness of the trial and the pace at which things are moving forward:

“Given the uniqueness of the case, a witness needs ample time to narrate their story and share their account, you can’t tell how long that story is, they need time. It takes time to call upon a witness to recollect that painful ordeal that happened 20 years ago and often times this leads to a psychological breakdown during the thought process. In such situations, the court cannot proceed, it has to be adjourned to give the witness time to get composed and put themselves together.”

Counsel Evans Ochieng, a Defense team member

The trial is proceeding at a very slow pace due to the insufficient financial resources that are required for a trial process that involves so many parties. The trial has four Judges, four prosecutors, four defense attorneys, two victim counsels, and a huge team of court staff including the IT team setting up the video links, the Court Assessors, the Interpretation team, court clerks, the rapporteurs, the documentation team, media team and so forth.

“It’s hard to project when the case will end especially in situations like ours where you have money this quarter and not sure whether you will have money next quarter.”

Counsel Evans Ochieng- Defense team member

Under the principle of positive complementarity[1],  national institutions like the International Crimes Division of the High Court in Uganda should have the necessary capabilities to effectively and efficiently handle investigations and prosecution of international crimes under the Rome Statute[2]. To this end, ASF has provided support to the ICD to develop and evolve its capacity. For instance, through the provision of technical support for the development of the ICD’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence and the guidelines on Registry Management. ASF has also engaged in capacity-building of the court, providing support to victims’ lawyers and broadly enhancing victims’ participation. To ensure the sustainability of these efforts, ASF, with its partner ICTJ, embarked on a study that led to the development of a Judicial Bench Book, which is an authoritative reference resource on the practice and procedure for the criminal prosecution of international crimes. ASF’s support has in many ways helped the relatively young institution that is the High Court to operate in line with the required international standards, thereby enhancing its capacity to deliver on its mandate as well as its international credibility and recognition.

Being victim-centered is at the core of ASF’s transitional justice strategy and this has informed the nature of our interventions. Working collaboratively with grassroots organizations such as Foundation for Justice and Development Initiative (FJDI), Gulu Women Economic Development and Globalization (GWED-G), and the Victims Counsels, we have conducted outreach where information regarding the trial has been disseminated and feedback from the victim communities sought. Radio talk shows have also been organized where court officials and other stakeholders discuss pertinent issues arising from the trial and where victim community members can call in and have their say on the state of affairs surrounding the trial and the possible next steps. This has been powerful in ensuring that victims are informed and aware of what is happening but also in ensuring that their views inform court officials on what victims think and perceive of the whole process.

ASF welcomes the government of Uganda’s adoption of the National Transitional Justice Policy, a comprehensive and key framework designed to address past human rights violations with the aim of promoting justice, accountability and reconciliation which are key pillars in achieving sustainable peace.  However, there is a need to expedite the enactment of the legislative instruments to operationalize the policy and ensure that victims achieve justice.

In the meantime, victims grapple with real life-threatening issues that need urgent and immediate attention. For instance, some victims returned with bullets in their bodies that necessitate surgical and rehabilitative processes to have these removed from their bodies. Others were victims of sexual violence who need medical support to address their reproductive and other enduring consequences of the violence as well as psychosocial support to manage their trauma.

There are also challenges regarding the both social and familial integration of children born in captivity and the reintegration of their mothers who suffer from stigmatization within the communities. To extent sometimes that the victims and their children have been forced to leave their communities and try to settle in urban centers and towns. Faced with this stigmatization and difficult living circumstances, some survivors have committed suicide or harbor suicidal thoughts.

In the absence of any interim support to address the long-lasting impacts of the violence and human rights abuses they have suffered, victims are concerned that by the time delayed justice is served, many will have already died and that justice will therefore not serve its intended purpose.

[1] Fidelma Donlon (2011), The International Criminal Court and Complementarity From Theory to Practice, pp. 920 – 954,Cambridge University Press.

[2] This principle envisions a coordinated approach to the prosecution of crimes by the International Criminal Court and national authorities. This points to a two-tiered policy to combat Impunity where ICC initiates prosecution against those who bear the greatest responsibility for crimes under Investigation and on the other hand encourages national trials where possible for the lower-ranking perpetrators. Such a principle would encourage the use and admission of information and evidence collected by the ICC before National Courts like the International Crimes Division of the High Court in Uganda. Article 93(10) (a) of the Rome Statute equally encourages such cooperation

This policy brief was written by Jimmy Wamimbi with valuable input from Faridah Kyomuhangi, Simon Mallet, Irene Winnie Anying, and Valérie Arnould.

Transitional Justice & Historical Redress: A special series on historical injustices stemming from slavery and colonialism

Over the next few weeks, ASF will be publishing a series of articles examining the challenges and questions raised by the recent rise of processes implemented to address the historical injustices of slavery and colonialism, particularly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. This special series is a collaboration between Avocats Sans Frontières and the Leuven Institute of Criminology.

Tentative processes are being put in place by former colonising countries. This has been most prominently the case in contexts of settler colonialism, possibly because of the lasting harmful legacies of colonialism and historical injustices continue to be more visible today in those countries. Canada, Australia and the Nordic countries all have, or are in the process, of setting up truth and reconciliation commissions to provide redress for harms caused to indigenous populations. In the US, calls have also been made to engage in some truth-telling and reparative process for slavery and racial violence.

More recently, we have also seen increased political debates around justice and redress measures for harms and colonial injustices in countries that were involved in exploitation and trade colonialism. The UK, for instance, has been engaged in legal claims and reparations negotiations over its repression of the Mai Mai insurgency in Kenya while Germany has negotiated a, much criticised, reparations agreement with Namibia over the Herero and Nama genocide. Various inquiry commissions have been set up in Belgium, France and the Netherlands to investigate the legacies of colonialism and to propose measures to redress these – often leading to heated controversies over the issue of reparations and apologies.

These developments have stimulated reflections, in both academic and policy circles, on the potential meaning(s) and roles that transitional justice can play in offering justice and redress for historical and enduring injustices which stem from colonial pasts. Traditionally, transitional justice has referred to a range of policies that countries that experienced armed conflicts or repressive rule use to address past human rights violations and injustices. Mobilising transitional justice as a response measure to colonial harms thus entails a broadening of the traditional boundaries of transitional justice, including envisioning its application in western countries and expanding conceptions of the ‘injustices’ and ‘responsibilities’ it seeks to address. It also requires a critical reflection on the extent to which transitional justice is itself embedded in postcolonial normative and political frameworks. Which can result in transitional justice perpetuating structural injustices and power imbalances rather than transforming them.

The contributions to this special series examine some of the challenges and questions this raises. In particular, they explore the adequacy of transitional justice as a framework for addressing the colonial past and what kind of justice model for historical redress transitional justice can offer. Drawing on experiences from a variety of countries, the articles question how effective well-established transitional justice mechanisms – truth commissions, reparations, trials, memorialisation, guarantees of non-recurrence – can be in pursuing justice and redress for historical and enduring injustices as well as in addressing intergenerational traumas inherited from colonialism. What emerges from these reflections is that while transitional justice can be useful for historical redress, they face political constraints (as has also been so commonly the case for transitional justice applied in more paradigmatic contexts) and requires a remodelling of transitional justice’s normative and ideological framings.

Solidarité internationale – Commune d’Etterbeek

This project is supported by the service Solidarité internationale de la commune d’Etterbeek

Leuven Transitional Justice Blog

All articles of this special series will also be available on the Leuven Transitional Justice Blog.

Consolidating discussions on transitional justice: the debate on access to land rights in the Acholi sub-region

Uganda land

This article was originally published in the Annual Report 2021 of Avocats Sans Frontières.

In recent years, numerous and continued conflicts about land use and ownership in the Acholi subregion have led to strong debate among the Ugandan population. But the discussions surrounding this issue have too often omitted to include it in the broader debate around transitional justice.

These land conflicts mostly find their source in the aftermath of the war that took place between the Ugandan Government and the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) from 1987 until the 2006 ceasefire. During that period, the rebels of the LRA targeted civilians and waged attacks on schools, public places and communities. This led to massive displacement of local populations into refugee camps called Internally Displaced People’s camps (IDPs). The extensive displacement and the death of elders during that period has divested local communities of land ownerships.

Access to land plays a crucial role in recovering from the effects of such conflicts but there is a true need to establish a linkage between land rights and the promotion of transitional justice objectives such as restitution. The 2019 Uganda National Transitional Justice Policy acknowledges the need to mitigate land conflicts in conflict-affected communities either individually or collectively.

ASF undertook research on access to land rights and transitional justice in Northern Uganda to establish the nature of justice paths undertaken by people in the Acholi sub-region in reclaiming their land rights. Using a purely qualitative methodology, the research established that victims of land conflicts use either statutory or traditional mechanisms to pursue justice but that they are unable to address land disputes satisfactorily and amicably. In many cases, access to justice and judicial outcomes are dependent on the individual’s social status. Women and youth find it harder to obtain satisfactory remedies due to their higher degree of vulnerability.

ASF advocates for a comprehensive land restitution strategy to be included in the broader transitional justice process. This includes the pillars of transitional justice processes: acknowledgment of the wrong suffered, truth-telling, investigation, and documentation. It is crucial to intensify efforts to ensure that land rights are fully respected, enforced, and restored in the return communities. In addition, ASF calls for the Government of Uganda to redefine processes of land acquisition for multinational companies and investors in ways that are transparent, accountable, and involve local communities to reduce mistrust and help build confidence in ongoing development initiatives in the region.

Press release: International Court of Justice Ruling in the DRC v. Uganda Case: Ensuring a Victim-Focused and Effective Implementation of the Reparations Order

On 9 February 2022, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Uganda to pay $325 million in reparations to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)  for damages to persons, property and natural resources resulting from Uganda’s military intervention in the wars in the DRC between 1998-2003. This follows on from the 2005 judgment in which the ICJ ruled that Uganda’s (direct and indirect) military actions in this period had violated the principle of non-intervention.

In this ruling, the Court also established that Ugandan armed forces were culpable of having «committed acts of killing, torture and other forms of inhumane treatment of the Congolese civilian population, destroyed villages and civilian buildings, failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and to protect the civilian population in fighting with other combatants, trained child soldiers, incited ethnic conflict […] and committed acts of looting, plundering and exploitation of Congolese natural resources».

This latest ruling represents an important recognition by an international court of the right to reparations for the victims of the wars in the DRC. It also reaffirms the reparation duties held by occupying powers for damages resulting from its direct and indirect actions that violate international law.

While the amount awarded is far below the $11billion requested by the DRC, it nonetheless represents the largest reparation awarded so far for gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by an international court.

We also welcome that the Court moved away from the application of a strict nexus between reparations and demonstrating exact injury. The Court thereby acknowledges that the particular context of the DRC conflict posed significant challenges to evidentiary fact-finding due to the large number of victims and belligerent factions as well as the destruction or inaccessibility of evidence.

However, we regret the opacity of the Court with regards to the methodology applied to (i) assess which evidence was accepted as having sufficient probative value and (ii) determine the amount of compensation awarded for each damage.

The ICJ decided to award reparations as a global rather than an individual sum. In effect, this means that the Court has left to the DRC the difficult task of devising a methodology for determining the equitable distribution of the awarded reparations to the victims.

We welcome the DRC’s stated commitment to set up a Victims Compensation Fund to this end. It will be essential to ensure  that the creation of this Fund, as well as the development of a methodology for the identification of victims and reparation modalities, happens in close consultation with victims and victims associations.

We also call on the Congolese authorities to develop a comprehensive and coherent overarching policy on reparations, to also address the needs of other victims of human rights abuses in the country’s multiple conflicts and to ensure the execution of reparation rulings by the Congolese courts.

The ICJ ruling should also serve as a reminder to the Congolese authorities that the passing of time cannot erase the grave human rights abuses committed in the DRC.

Finally, we regret that the Court has decided not to stay seized of the case until the final payment of the reparations. In light of the demonstrated inability of the DRC and Uganda to come to a mutual agreement on the reparations issue and Uganda’s rejection of the ICJ’s rulings, a mechanism to ensure post-adjudication compliance with the Court’s order would have been desirable.

We call on the Ugandan government to constructively engage with the Congolese authorities on the matter and to fully comply with the ICJ’s reparations order.

Coming at a time of improved relations between the DRC and Uganda, we are convinced that the timely execution of the ICJ’s reparations ruling would contribute to further rebuilding relationships between both countries.

Press release: Publication of the expert report on Belgian colonial past: Signatories call for a holistic and inclusive justice process

On the occasion of its presentation to Parliament, the signatories commend the publication of the report written by the multidisciplinary team of experts mandated by the Special Parliamentary Commission on Belgium’s Colonial Past. This report is a new milestone towards a better understanding of the Belgian colonial era. It constitutes an important contribution to a peaceful debate on this issue between the different segments of contemporary Belgian society.

Claims about the historical harms of colonisation and their contemporary consequences in terms of structural racism have been present for many years in the Belgian public debate, but have gained renewed interest since the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. It was this social mobilisation, led mainly by Afro-descendant groups in Belgian society, that led to the establishment of the Special Commission in July 2020. The report of the Commission’s experts must therefore be appreciated against the demands for justice regarding Belgium’s colonial past.

In this respect, the report shows certain limitations that should be noted. First of all, this report was born out of a narrow process of truth establishment, mainly contained within Belgian public institutions. As mentioned several times, the Special Commission that commissioned this expert report is a political commission, controlled by the different Belgian political parties. Its work is, for the time being, not open to representatives of Belgian civil society, nor to civil societies from formerly colonised countries. Therefore, the experts’ report is not the result of an inclusive and open process, in contrast to the established good practices of transitional justice in terms of truth-establishment.

Secondly, the report only partially fulfils the objectives set by the Commission itself. It essentially addresses Belgium’s colonial past in the current Democratic Republic of Congo, and does not address the cases of Burundi and Rwanda. Similarly, the report is essentially focused on the actions of the Belgian state, and only slightly covers the role of non-state actors. Yet the commission is mandated to examine the role and structural impact that not only the Belgian state and the Belgian authorities, but also non-state actors such as the monarchy, the church and the private sector had on the colonial phenomenon.

The signatories hope that this report will serve as a basis for an actual Transitional Justice process, whose tools (truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition) are now established to be relevant to tackle colonial liabilities and continuities. The report offers a number of avenues for reflection that the Commission should materialize into concrete plans for reforms and in an open and inclusive framework. In this regard, the Commission is particularly expected to publish a work plan for its upcoming work and to clarify its engagement strategies with all stakeholders. This report should not be a mere contribution to History, but the basis for an articulated response to the demands for justice, for the past and the present.

In conclusion, the signatories welcome the initiative of the Belgian Parliamentarians to take up the debate on the colonial period and to try to objectify what is at stake. However, ASF wishes to recall that only a holistic and inclusive process of justice is capable of healing the wounds of Belgian society in order for its different segments to live together harmoniously and to restore the dignity of the victims of Belgian colonisation in Africa.


  • African Futures Action Lab
  • Avocats Sans Frontières
  • Bamko-cran asbl
  • CaCoBuRwa
  • Christophe Marchand

Reparation to victims of international crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a major challenge in the fight against impunity

ASF has been active in the fight against impunity and the field of international justice for over 15 years in the DRC. During that time, the organization has witnessed great progress but regrets that current mechanisms are still not up to the challenges at stake.

As conflicts persist and condemnations in international crimes are more and more regular, victims still struggle to effectively receive the reparations that are granted to them by courts and tribunals. This represents a major issue as reparations are considered fundamental to achieving an effective process of reconciliation in the DRC. To this day, despite the 28 million USD granted to more than 3.300 victims, only one reparation ruling has been partially executed.

This obviously constitutes a major issue in itself but this is not the only problematic aspect about the reparations granted. Their form raises two major issues as well. First, they can only be granted through judicial decision, limiting access to justice for many victims. Secondly, Congolese law only allows the allocation of individual and monetary reparations.

The nature of the crimes committed, the prejudices suffered and their impact on large portion of the population require an adapted response. ASF considers that the Congolese legal system in its current state does not meet the standards required for these international crimes trials. International criminal law, for example, provides for the possibility of collective and non-pecuniary reparations, provisions which have not yet been incorporated into national legislation.

ASF addresses those challenges through its project “Pursuing the fight against impunity of grave crimes committed in the DRC”, funded by the European Union, and implemented in partnership with RCN Justice et Démocratie and Trial International. ASF’s and its partners’ strategy revolves around 4 axes: access to justice for victims, capacity building of field actors, awareness-raising and advocacy.

Thanks to the collaboration between ASF, its partners and the bar associations of Northern Kivu, Ituri and Maniema, more than 500 victims of international crimesinternational have been able to benefit from legal assistance in 2020. To make sure they benefit from the best services possible, ASF and its partners organized training sessions on reparations and their execution to the attention of lawyers, but also training sessions on data collection in the context of international crimes for civil society organizations.

Finally, ASF and its partners work to raise awareness of victims of international crimes and lead an advocacy effort to denounce the non-execution of the judicial decisions in favor of victims.

According to ASF, there is an urgent need for a thorough review of the place given to victims and reparations in the many international justice trials taking place in the DRC. For if these challenges are not met, the whole transitional justice process in the country is at risk. Its success is fundamental to enable the population to regain confidence in its institutions and to hope to achieve real reconciliation at national level.

Djugu killings: Significant evolution of Congolese jurisprudence on reparations

The Djugu 2 trial came to an end on 1 April 2021. It concluded with 21 defendants being sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity by murder, arson, destruction, pillaging and persecution, and 11 defendants being acquitted. The 219 civil parties were also granted most of their claims for reparations, both individual and collective, including rehabilitation measures, thus breaking with the practice of awarding only damages.

Restitution was also ordered as individual reparations. Among the collective reparations measures, the Ituri Military Tribunal ordered the DRC to set up a health centre in each village for the medical and psychological care of the victims; to take measures to search for the unaccounted-for bodies and to provide the victims with the means to organise their mourning; to erect a monument in each village that had been attacked; and to take appropriate measures to put an end to the activities of the armed group CODECO. This is a particularly relevant reconciliation of the different reparation measures provided by international law, namely compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

This verdict is an important step in the fight against impunity in Ituri, a region that is the scene of significant inter-community and ethnic tensions. This trial concerns in particular the crimes committed by the armed group “Cooperative for the Development of Congo” (CODECO) against the Hema community in the territory of Djugu, between December 2017 and March 2020. CODECO claims to defend the interests of the Lendu community (farmers) against the Hema community (herders and traders). The CODECO militia had intensified its attacks in the territories of Djugu, Irumu and Tchomia after the death of its leader Matthieu Ngudjolo and the arrest of his main lieutenants.

The Djugu trial covered crimes committed in these territories between December 2017 and March 2020. The defendants were accused of having launched several widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population, killing more than 800 people, burning more than 400 homes and displacing 200,000 people.

This decision sends a strong signal to the armed groups operating in the region who continue to violate the rights of the civilian population, as well as to the Congolese state, whose responsibility is also recognised by the Court. The DRC was thus ordered to pay reparation in solidum for having failed in its mission to protect the population. Almost all of the victims, witnesses and informants reported the presence of the Congolese national police and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the localities where the attacks and other reprehensible acts of which the defendants are accused were committed.

The proceedings were conducted in accordance with the law and the principles of a fair trial, in particular the legal time limits, despite the difficulties linked to the persistent insecurity caused by the presence of CODECO in the vicinity of Iga Barrière.

This verdict does not, however, mark the end of the judicial process for the victims of this case. Victims very rarely obtain the reparations to which they are entitled. The procedure for the execution of other forms of reparation is thus far from clear. The challenge now is to ensure that :

– The indigence of victims is recognised and they are exempted from the costs of the preparation of the case and the enforcement procedure;
– The administrative and judicial authorities proceed with the preparation of the judgment to make it enforceable;
– The administrative and judicial authorities proceed with the effective enforcement of the judgment;
– Victims effectively receive the reparations to which they are entitled as soon as possible.

Continue reading “Djugu killings: Significant evolution of Congolese jurisprudence on reparations”

JUSTICE NOW ? Tackling legacies of Europe’s colonial past in the wake of Black Lives Matter

>> Visit the conference website <<   >> Register for the symposium! <<

ASF co-organizes an interdisciplinary conference with the Anthropology Department at MIT, and the European Network Against Racism from the 22nd to the 26th of March 2021. Over the course of five half-days, scholars, activists, and policy makers from Africa, Europe and North America will address issues related to Europe’s colonial heritage and the global demands for justice in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. Participation is free but registration is required.

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the US in the summer of 2020 following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis also sparked mass uprisings against systemic racism across Europe. These protests not only expressed solidarity with the American movement, but also called for European states to examine their own structural, race-based inequities, as well as their colonial pasts in Africa and the legacies thereof. Building on decades of anti-racism activism, Afro-diasporic and other activist groups in Europe have made demands ranging from the removal of statues of colonial figures and the renaming of public spaces, to the return of artifacts  taken from African colonies and held in European museums, and financial reparations for the violences of colonization.

These demands have begun to yield fruits. In Belgium, for instance, a Special Commission tasked with examining Belgium’s colonial past in the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi was established in July 2020. And, in a major step in the contemporary fight against racism and discrimination in the European Union, the EU’s 2020-25 Action Plan, delivered in September 2020, asserted the link between colonialism and the perpetuation of stereotypes and discrimination in European societies.

As these movements against racism unfold across North America and Europe, what does examining them transversally — across geography, history, and domains of practice — make visible about present opportunities for addressing Europe’s colonial past in Africa and its contemporary legacies? How might actions in different countries and regions amplify one another? What mechanisms are available in and across the arenas of law, policymaking, community organizing, and the arts for obtaining redress for these harms? What lessons can be carried over from historical undertakings?

This symposium, convened by the Department of Anthropology at MIT, in collaboration with Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), aims to provide a platform for scholars, activists, and policymakers from Europe, North America, and Africa to tackle these questions. Over the course of five half-days of virtual panels and roundtable discussions, experts in areas such as transitional justice, racial justice, colonial and decolonial studies will share their experiences in the development of anti-racist and decolonial movements in and across their respective contexts.

The present moment offers a historic opportunity to both investigate and support anti-racist and decolonial efforts across national contexts and arenas of practice. We warmly invite you to join us in this cross-disciplinary gathering. Please direct inquiries to conveners at

Register for the symposium! You can see the preliminary program here.

Continue reading “JUSTICE NOW ? Tackling legacies of Europe’s colonial past in the wake of Black Lives Matter”