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Open Letter to President Kabila

Your excellency:
Human Rights Watch is writing to you to express its alarm at the executions in three groups since
January 28 of nineteen people condemned to death by the special Court of Military Order. We are
also deeply concerned about the fate of another sixty-one death row inmates currently held at
Pavilion 2 in the Reeducation and Penitentiary Center of Kinshasa (former Makala central prison)
whose execution appears imminent according to reports.

Human Rights Watch fears that the execution of the sixty-one death row inmate presently held at Kinshasa's central prison is imminent. A total of nineteen civilians and military personnel were executed in three groups: on January 28 and 31, and on February 2. Executions took place at the Provincial Inspectorate of Police and at Tshatshi military camp in Kinshasa, and at Maluku, about 60 km from the capital.

Your government established the Court of Military Order by presidential decree in August 1997, shortly after it seized power. The Court initially had a narrow mandate of trying soldiers accused of disciplinary and other offences in the capital Kinshasa and its area in a drive to suppress an upsurge in criminality and dissent in the ranks. Following the outbreak of war in August 1998 against the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy and its foreign backers, your government expanded both the geographic coverage and legal mandate of the court with the addition of new chambers at several centers in Katanga, Kasai, and Bas Congo regions, and the establishment of roving courts. Since its establishment, the functioning of this court has been marked by prolonged delays, a lack of due process, and a propensity to apply and execute the death sentence. The Court has increasingly been used for political repression, notably to punish nonviolent opposition and to muzzle outspoken critics of the government in the media and NGO sectors. Authorities have also used the court to punish civilians accused of economic crimes such as illicit dealings in foreign currency.

Human Rights Watch urges your government to abolish the special Military Court and establish an independent judiciary that respects due process. Regular military courts should only handle cases of military personnel who are accused of committing military crimes. Trials in military courts should afford the accused all gaurentees of fair trial enshrined in international standards and Congolese justice codes, including the right to appeal and the right to counsel. The government should guarantee the competence, independence, and impartiality of all tribunals to ensure that civilians are not tried before military courts. Civilian and military judges, prosecutors, and other court officials should not be subject to intimidation or harassment related to their duties.

More specifically, we urge your government to abide by the "Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty," adopted by Economic and Social Council resolution 1984/50 of 25 May 1984, that are representing a broad level of consensus by the international community. The Safeguards provide guidance for those countries that have not abolished the death penalty. The following Safeguards are of particular relevance to the aforementioned cases:

3. Persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime shall not be sentenced to death, nor shall the death sentence be carried out on pregnant women, or on new mothers, or on persons who have become insane.

5. Capital punishment may only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court after legal process which gives all possible safeguards to ensure a fair trial, at least equal to those contained in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right of anyone suspected of or charged with a crime for which capital punishment may be imposed to adequate legal assistance at all stages of the proceedings.

6. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction, and steps should be taken to ensure that such appeals shall become mandatory.

7. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon, or commutation of sentence; pardon or commutation of sentence may be granted in all cases of capital punishment.

8. Capital punishment shall not be carried out pending any appeal or other recourse procedure or other proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentence.

Thanking you in advance for your urgent action on this matter, we remain,

Sincerely Yours,

Peter Takirambudde
Executive Director
Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

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