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Will there be any justice for the Congo?

In all of the drama of the UN mapping report, most of the media have forgotten what the report was intended to do: hold the perpetrators accountable, provide the Congolese with some justice for all the crimes that have been committed.

So what are the chances that there will be justice?

Whatever chances there were have been somewhat diminished by the Congolese government’s official reaction, a 51-page document. Parts of their response praise the mapping report, saying that it « honors the victims and puts into perspective to the truth, reparations and the guarantee of non-occurrence (sic). » Elsewhere the government seem to nitpick, saying that the report did not deal with the « massive abuses carried out by MONUC, » in particular the « massive rapes » against Congolese women. (The report dealt with the period between 1993-2003; most reported MONUC abuses happened after June 2003, although not all of them). They do, however, rightly ask about the responsibility of outside countries – one can only assume western ones – that did not carry out the abuses but financially supported the countries that did.

But the important message comes only on page 48, when it responds to the recommendation to create a mixed court, as in Sierra Leone, to judge the most serious crimes committed during the war. The Congolese government appears to reject this recommendation, saying that it could cause « seriously damaging discrimination against judges and other judicial officials, » presumably because they would subjected to outside interference. Instead, they suggest creating « specialized chambers » within the Congolese justice system.

I don’t find this convincing – the Congolese justice system is barely functional due to lack of resources and interference by the executive. Any credible tribunal would have to be independent, both financially as well as politically, and able to investigate anything within its mandate. Nonetheless, the language used by the government leaves some room for compromise – they don’t say as much, but I could image that there could be foreign judges or prosecutors, and their work could be independently financed, albeit within the confines of the Congolese judiciary.

As for the truth and reconciliation commission, the government seems to dismiss the idea, asking whether this could be useful in a country with a democratically elected parliament, which could set up « an ad hoc commission to establish the truth about the abuses committed between 1885 and today. » Just as a reminder, the South African TRC was set up under a democratically elected government. And setting up a commission to review all of the abuses – and there were many – since 1885 seems to be a recipe for doing nothing.

We will have to see whether anybody outside of the NGO community takes up the cause of a mixed tribunal or a TRC. I have my doubts. Perhaps a compromise will be reached in maintaining another, less intrusive recommendation made by the team: A vetting out of abusive officials from the security services. Or maybe not even that.

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