February 8, 2016

Voices from Kinshasa (1/3): “A snake will bite when cornered”

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)Human rights defendersNews

Kinshasa, 8 February 2016 – In DR Congo, defending the rights of victims of injustice and exercising one’s fundamental freedoms remains a challenge. Faced with an often failing legal system and, at times, intimidation, men and women still pursue an ideal: to live in a fairer world. First of three interviews: Alphonse Koyakosi, lawyer specialised in international crimes.

 Father of five, Maître Koyakosi has been a member of the Gombe Bar (Kinshasa) since 1995. His preferred field is criminal law, and international crime in particular.

Because he is a member of a pool of lawyers who have been working with ASF since 2005, ASF asked him to join the victims’ defence team in the case of General Kakwavu. This former rebel leader joined the Armed Forces of DR Congo in 2005, with the rank of General. In the territories controlled by his troops in the Ituri province between 2002 and 2004, hundreds of people were victims of war crimes, rape, murder and torture. This is why the United Nations sought and obtained his arrest in 2006.

“I immediately agreed to get involved in this case because it concerns a senior army officer, not simple soldiers. So it was a symbolically significant trial in the fight against the impunity of perpetrators of international crime”, explains Mr Koyakosi.

In 2012, there was an incident during court proceedings. “We were there to file a charge against the General. And that’s when he said to me disdainfully: “We’ll be seeing to you!” remembers the criminal lawyer.

After that, the lawyer’s life changed. “I had already received threats in other cases, but this time, it was different. We have a saying: “a snake will bite when cornered.” That’s what happened with Kakwavu. He’s one of those men who have a lot of influence and who never forget. So I was forced to change my daily routine: I travelled less, I spent less time at family gatherings and so on”, he explains.

Eventually, in 2014, General Kakwavu was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for war crimes. As a precaution, Mr Koyakosi was not even in court when the judgement was handed down.

“Even if I had to die because of this case, it would have been worth it because this trial has sent out a message to those responsible for crimes”, the lawyer believes. “It also sent out a message to victims, to help them resist the pressure from perpetrators and not to lose hope that justice will be done”.

The lawyer appreciates the work done by ASF in terms of international criminal justice in DR Congo (click here for more information): “Thanks to the training courses organised by ASF, lawyers have more confidence in themselves and in their skills. Without this support from ASF, many trials would not take place.”

Video: “Intersections”: Listen to testimonies and find out more about international criminal justice in DR Congo

Picture: Lawyer Alphonse Koyakosi, Kinshasa, 2015 © ASF / G. Van Moortel


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