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The Democratic Republic of Congo should adopt a draft law establishing specialized mixed chambers for trying serious rights abuses, 146 Congolese and international organizations said in a joint declaration today. Parliament should also pass a draft law during the current parliamentary session to incorporate the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty into Congolese law. The parliamentary session began on March 15, 2014.

President Joseph Kabila and the Congolese government have recently pledged to strengthen the country’s capacity to tackle impunity for atrocities against civilians. The proposed specialized mixed chambers within the national judicial system would focus on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and benefit initially from the presence of non-Congolese staff with expertise in this field. The ICC implementing legislation would bring the ICC definitions of these crimes under Congolese law and regulate cooperation with the court.

“Establishing specialized mixed chambers and adopting the ICC implementing legislation will increase the capacity of national courts to finally bring to justice those responsible for unspeakable atrocities in Congo,” said Justine Masika Bihamba, president of Synergie des Femmes, a network of Congolese women’s rights organizations in eastern Congo. “The Congolese authorities should now turn rhetoric into reality and take concrete steps for justice.”

The vast majority of those responsible for massacres, rapes, torture, forced recruitment of child soldiers, and burning of homes in Congo over the past two decades, especially in the eastern part of the country, have not been punished. While the two draft laws have been under consideration for several years, concrete advances have been made in the past several months that make their passage during this session of parliament a realistic possibility. The advances include revision by the government of the draft law on the chambers and adoption of the ICC implementing legislation by a parliament committee in December 2013.

“Repeated cycles of violence and impunity in Congo have inflicted horrific suffering on the Congolese people,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “A new mechanism within the national judicial system is urgently needed to ensure those responsible for the worst crimes are finally brought to justice – and to send a warning to other warlords and army commanders that serious crimes will not go unpunished.”

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