The many faces of international justice (1/4): DR Congo

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)International justiceNews

Over the summer, as part of the Crossroads project, ASF is bringing you the latest news about international justice. Our teams on the ground give you the lowdown. This week, Dominique Kamuandu, International Justice Programme Coordinator in DR Congo, gives us his impressions of the progress made and what is still to be accomplished in the area of international justice.

Q: Since 10 December 2014 – International Human Rights Day – has there has been any major progress in international justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?
A: International criminal justice is a work in progress but I would not yet say that progress has been major. We have to recognise that many criminal investigations have been opened, including on atrocities committed by armed groups, and that some trials have experienced an outcome with judicial decisions.

Dominique Kamuandu, International Justice Programme Coordinator, ASF © ASF
Dominique Kamuandu, International Justice Programme Coordinator, ASF

However, the slow progress in the development of judicial proceedings remains a concern. On a more positive note, I attended the Etats Généraux conference on the justice sector in May 2015. Set up to reflect on the current state of justice in the DRC and possible improvements, this conference also served as a framework for advocacy on the fight against impunity for serious crimes. It is in this light that the Congolese National Assembly has adopted a series of legislation implementing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Q: Do the victims and affected communities feel that they have better access to justice?
A: The challenges of allowing victims of serious crimes access to justice are still numerous. Overall, the views of victims and communities are mixed. Some are satisfied by the outcome of their trials in seeing their persecutors sentenced. Others are worried. They see that cases relating to the crimes they have suffered are not moving forward. Beyond judicial assistance and access to a court, the non-enforcement of judgments pronounced on allocated reparations does not favour the restoration of victims’ rights. In these conditions it is difficult to feel that access to justice has improved.

Q: Congolese courts have dealt with major cases such as that of Colonel 106. How are these trials received by the victims and the population?
A: These various cases have seen strong support from the populations and victims despite the risks they might be exposed to. Victims have actively participated in trials, some even refused protective measures in order to look their persecutors in the eye in the witness stand. These trials have allowed them to better understand the role of justice and the principle of equality of citizens before the law, whereas previously they thought their persecutors were untouchable. They never imagined that one day they could be brought to justice.

Q: How is the safety of victims assured during trials?
A: To preserve the dignity of victims and ensure their safety, ASF has obtained protective measures in different courts under the Rome Statute: the classification of the identities of victims, wearing veils to avoid seeing victims’ faces, hearing from an isolation booth – and not in the courtroom where the accused is held, and the support of a psychologist before, during and after appearances.

Q: What other ASF initiatives would you like to mention?
A: We have established groups of lawyers specialised in international criminal justice in the Bar associations of provinces affected by armed conflict. This action helped ensure quality judicial assistance for victims and facilitated compliance with the principles of due process in proceedings relating to international crimes. It is thanks to the support put in place for victims that legal cases have been opened. Over the past twelve months, we have provided assistance and/or legal representation to 2,038 victims in seven cases before the Congolese courts.

Q: Can international crimes be committed outside of armed conflict?
A: Absolutely. Right now we are following the Yalisika case, named after this village in the Equateur province. There are two striking features about this case: it relates to international crimes committed outside of armed conflict, and with the assistance or complicity of a logging company. This second point is quite new: how can a company be held responsible for acts committed by armed forces who are not directly employed by the company in question? In this case, as in all others, what matters is establishing responsibility. This will make it possible to restore the dignity of victims as well as preventing future abuse. This is essential to ensuring stability, peace and respect for human rights.

The Crossroads project: convinced that trying crimes of the past can help build a better future, ASF and its partners, ASF Canada and INSEC, support access to international criminal justice for the most vulnerable people whilst respecting the rule of law and international standards. The project involves six countries on three continents, with the specific aim of strengthening justice systems in the six countries in question. Discover the stories of those involved in international justice in Burundi, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Nepal and Uganda. Read and watch their testimonies
Cover picture: DR Congo © 2014 Alexis Bouvy / Local Voices