(Kinshasa) - Congo's government should revise and strengthen proposed legislation for a specialized mixed national/international court to hold perpetrators of serious human rights abuses to account, Human Rights Watch and the Congolese Coalition for Transitional Justice (CCJT) said today. The recommendations for improvements and a plan for supporting the court's work grew out of a joint effort on April 6-8, 2011, in Goma, North Kivu, by Congolese and international officials and civil society.
Human Rights Watch and CCJT sponsored the conference in Goma to discuss possible improvements to the draft law prepared by the Congolese government to establish a specialized mixed court in Congo - a national court with a degree of international involvement - to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses committed on Congolese soil since 1990.
"Establishing a mixed court can help break the vicious cycle of violations and impunity in Congo," said Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Addressing civil society's key concerns will be essential so that the court can effectively deliver justice to victims through fair trials. The victims deserve nothing less."
Minister of Justice and Human Rights Luzolo Bambi indicated that the draft bill will be introduced at the current session of Parliament, which ends on June 15.
Minister Luzolo Bambi and the United States war crimes ambassador, Stephen Rapp, were among over 100 participants at the conference, including other Congolese government officials, diplomats, United Nations officials, representatives from international nongovernmental organizations, and members of Congolese civil society from each of the country's 11 provinces.
The first part of the conference focused on the draft law to ensure that the mixed court will be truly independent and effective.
The second half was reserved for national and international civil society activists to discuss the draft law and to prepare an advocacy plan to secure its adoption and interact with the specialized mixed court once established.
Civil society participants adopted a "Common Position" on the proposed law - a written document expressing overall support for the proposed mixed court, provided key amendments are made to guarantee the court's independence, credibility, and effectiveness. Key areas for improvement include requiring international personnel in all of the court's organs, extending the court's jurisdiction to include current crimes, clarifying a role for victims and the protection of witnesses in the trial process, and enhancing defendants' rights. Several civil society representatives formally presented the "Common Position" - signed by 34 Congolese and international nongovernmental organizations - to Minister Luzolo Bambi at a meeting in Kinshasa on April 13.
"The Congolese Justice Minister, potential donors to the court, and others involved should act quickly to ensure necessary amendments, including those identified by civil society, are made before the draft legislation is presented to Parliament," said Raphaël Wakenge, coordinator of the CCJT. "Strong legislation is essential to help effect a shift from the culture of impunity to one of accountability in Congo."