The Congolese human rights minister launched national consultations on a new transitional justice initiative that, if implemented, would help the Democratic Republic of Congo emerge from conflict, address grave human rights violations, and institute needed reforms.
Representatives of Congo’s presidency and government, along with United Nations officials, international experts, and members of the national human rights commission participated in a ceremony last week in Kalemie, Tanganyika, in eastern Congo. The Congolese government reaffirmed its commitment to justice and reconciliation and to holding to account those responsible for serious crimes committed across the country.
Throughout decades of conflict in Congo, armed groups and national security forces have violated the laws of war, attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure, leaving death, displacement, and destitution in their wake. Much of the violence has been committed on ethnic lines, and both rebels and national forces have committed sexual slavery and rape.
One constant throughout this violence: an almost total lack of accountability. The absence of justice has fueled further violence, and addressing it will be critical to establishing sustainable peace, especially in the violence-wracked east.
National consultations conducted in all the country’s provinces will help determine the Congolese government's transitional justice policy. Congo’s human rights minister said the consultations should lead to the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission. But Congo needs more than just the nonjudicial aspects of transitional justice. Failing to prosecute those responsible for serious crimes encourages a cycle of impunity and promotes violence.
Last year, a coalition of over 50 Congolese and international nongovernmental organizations recommended that Congo’s government make justice for serious crimes a top priority by adopting a clear strategy to hold those suspected of grave human rights violations accountable. They made clear that transitional justice efforts will only be credible if they include and prioritize criminal accountability for serious crimes, in line with international law.
Grand speeches on ending impunity for atrocities have been made before in Congo. Most of the time, these speeches weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.
The Congolese government now has an opportunity to restore justice for some of the world’s most brutal crimes. The big question is, will it?