Congo has brought an increasing number of prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity over the past 10 years, with about 30 cases tried before military courts. The Minova trial benefitted from this experience and from projects implemented by international partners and by the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo to strengthen the capacity of the military justice system to tackle impunity for grave crimes.
The Minova trial, however, showed that the quality of the judicial proceedings – not just their number – needs to be closely examined, and improved. The Congolese authorities and international partners still have work to do to address the challenges that hinder meaningful justice for human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch made a number of recommendations to the Congolese government. These include creating a national specialized investigation cell to centralize and build expertise of national justice staff to handle serious crimes, including sexual violence; adopting pending reforms to improve the legal framework, including a law to implement the Rome Statute of the ICC; improving the fair trial rights of defendants; and pursuing avenues to enhance the independence and impartiality of the justice system. To improve accountability for sexual violence specifically, Human Rights Watch recommended the use of improved forensic forms by health centers treating rape victims, the hiring and training of female investigators and prosecutors, and the inclusion of sexual violence incidents in a national prosecutorial strategy.
The government’s proposal to establish a temporary internationalized justice mechanism involving both national and international judicial staff within the national justice system remains critical to bolster specialized expertise and shield proceedings from interference.
In 2004, the ICC opened an investigation into abuses committed in Congo. The ICC’s investigation has led to two convictions, one acquittal and one ongoing trial. One ICC suspect is still evading justice. The ICC can only investigate crimes after 2002 and even then its work will only yield a handful of cases, Human Rights Watch said.
“The ICC’s cases in Congo are vital, but they only scratch the surface in addressing the impunity that has persisted in Congo for decades,” Mattioli-Zeltner said. “The Congolese government should do more to support the delivery of credible justice to victims and send the message that no one is beyond the law’s reach.”