March 29, 2022

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

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)UgandaTransitional justice

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.

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