Author: Salomé Persyn (Vienna Master of Human Rights)
Does time really heal all wounds? The 1st of October 2020 marked ten years since the publishing of the Mapping report. Since then, justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has stagnated, endangering the country’s stability on the long-term.
Elaborated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the report covers crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, known until 1997 as Zaire) from March 1993 to June 2003. This decade corresponds to one of the darkest periods in the country’s history, marked by the First (1996-1998) and Second (1998-2003) Congo Wars, with the latter leading to a multiplication of rebel armed groups in the eastern part of the country and the intervention of seven African countries. Until today, the eastern part of DRC remains afflicted by instability and violence.
In the course of nearly 550 pages, the Mapping report describes in detail widespread and systematic violations committed on the territory of the Zaire/DRC, listing at least 617 verified incidents, which likely represent only a fraction of the violations committed from 1993 to 2003. These exactions include attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, the enlistment of minors as soldiers, and the exploitation of natural resources to fund warring parties. These acts could qualify as war crimes, crimes against humanity and even crimes of genocide, pending their determination by a qualified jurisdiction. The last category has particularly stirred controversy: indeed, the Mapping report raises the question whether acts of violence committed by or with the support of the Rwandan army against the Hutu population in the DRC (including refugees coming from Rwanda) in 1996 and 1997 could have constituted crimes of genocide. Rwandan authorities have vehemently rejected these allegations. This controversy highlights the profoundly sensitive nature of the Mapping report, which not only lists crimes allegedly committed by Congolese loyal forces and rebel armed groups but also points out to the responsibility of regional actors in the commission of exactions.
As years pass, the enduring impunity undermines the advancement of the country
In spite of the damning allegations contained in the report, little has been made since 2010 to ensure accountability. At the domestic level, timid reforms have been conducted in the justice sector and rebel leaders have been tried by Congolese military tribunals in processes that have failed to involve civil justice. The Congolese justice system lacks the funds and the capacity to address the extensive amount of violations listed in the Mapping report or to conduct further investigations. As of 2020, the government was working on the establishment of a national transitional justice and reconciliation commission (supported by local commissions), as well as the creation of a reparation fund for victims of ‘grave crimes’. These first steps, while encouraging, are insufficient in the light of the numerous victims as well the dire need for accountability and reforms. At the international level, three rebel leaders have been sentenced by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in the Ituri province between 2002 and 2003. However, the Court’s mandate only covers violations from July 2002 onwards, leaving much of the exactions listed in the Mapping report out of its scope. More than that, the Court has been criticized for insufficiently holding political and military officials accountable, and focusing solely on rebel leaders. Plans by former President Joseph Kabila to establish mixed specialised chambers made up of Congolese and international judges and integrated into the Congolese legal system have failed to materialize. For several years, Congolese civil society actors, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege, have been advocating for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal for the DRC. Yet, political will has lacked, as evidenced by the absence of United Nations Security Council resolutions in this regard.
Ten years after its publication, the lack of action taken to follow up on the report has acted as an obstacle to peace, justice and development. Human rights defenders have pointed out that perpetrators of violations have remained or risen to positions of power in the Congolese administration, politics, and in the army. On the long term, this enduring impunity and lack of accountability endanger the social contract between a state and the citizens it has the obligation to protect. A serious discussion about justice for crimes committed in the DRC is thus long overdue. In this regard, transitional justice and accountability efforts should benefit from a strong international support, which would at the same time stress ownership by Congolese actors, notably local civil society and communities.
At the domestic level, mechanisms of transitional justice as well as reforms and capacity-building of the Congolese justice system should be a priority, with the support of the international community. Several considerations should play into whether violations should be prosecuted by mixed chambers or by an international criminal tribunal, such as the need to protect processes from political and other interferences or questions of jurisdiction over crimes committed by foreign actors. As the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), a peacekeeping mission established in 1999, is planning its gradual withdrawal from the country, it has a duty to advocate for victims’ and survivors’ right to redress. Lastly, while the ICC retains limited jurisdiction over crimes listed in the Mapping report, it should continue to investigate avenues to hold senior officials accountable, and consider enhancing its capacity-building activities. Following up on the Mapping report will imply a painful discussion, and require concerted efforts and commitments for systemic change to ensure accountability. Only then will survivors, communities and the Congolese society be able to move forward. Time doesn’t heal wounds, but justice can.
I have interned with the Country Analysis Unit, within the Registry of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Unit is tasked with monitoring and forecasting security and political developments in ICC situation countries, as well as with assessing their possible impacts on ICC activities. The Unit produces neutral situation reports and briefings for various clients such as the Office of the Prosecutor, ICC Country Offices, the Registry, the Defence, the Chambers, the Trust Fund for Victims and Victim Representatives.
During my internship, my work was focused on the Democratic Republic of Congo (notably the province of Ituri), Ivory Coast/Côte d’Ivoire and Burundi. My role has been to support the Unit in monitoring developments in situation countries. This has materialized in tasks such as open source and social media monitoring or the drafting of situation reports and security assessments.