The DRC must pay off its debt to victims of mass crimes

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)International justiceNews

Why do so few victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) receive reparations even as the number of convictions for international crimes continues to rise? A policy brief produced by ASF, Trial International and RCN Justice et Démocratie gives details of excessively lengthy and complicated procedures. The document, endorsed by around thirty civil society players and international partners, denounces a “facade of justice” that fails to meet the requirements of international law.

The DRC has stepped up its efforts to combat impunity since early 2000. Almost twenty years later, the results are mixed. Congolese courts, which are essentially military courts, have examined more than 50 cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity. They have issued many convictions and ordered that reparations be paid to victims.

This facade of justice has been undermined, however, by the very few reparations measures that have actually been implemented. According to data collected, Congolese courts have ordered that close to 28 million dollars in total be paid in damages and interest to more than 3.300 victims. The reparation orders were made when the accused was found guilty as well as the Congolese state, in solidarity, for failing to protect its population. Yet to this day, it seems that only one reparation order has actually been carried out.

A detailed policy brief proposing specific measures

Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), Trial International and RCN Justice & Démocratie are publishing a policy brief intended for the Congolese authorities in order to understand why reparations systematically fail to be paid.

Apart from issues relating to political will, the policy brief focuses on jurisdictions where reparation orders have not been complied with, which can largely be explained by the cumbersome nature of the procedure for enforcing reparation orders. The process involves a considerable number of steps and points of contact in jurisdictions and administrations that are severely hampered by red tape and corrupt practices.

We hope that the policy brief will open the door to constructive discussions with the authorities,” explains Daniele Perissi, Head of the Great Lakes Program at TRIAL International. “That is why our document includes a set of specific, realistic recommendations on how to ensure that victims receive their due.”

A deeper debate on transitional justice

While the procedure is undeniably in need of reform, both the amount and structure of the State debt call reparation arrangements into question. Under international standards, such arrangements must also offer the possibility of non-monetary measures.

Among other things, the situation is a stark reminder that the DRC must commit to a genuine policy of transitional justice and that its criminal justice system alone cannot bear the burden of ensuring that victims of mass crimes receive justice.