AfricaThe Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

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The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Despite the official end of war, the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be plagued by violence, with civilians falling victim to widespread killings, rape forced displacement and other crimes. ICTJ provides technical assistance to government and civil society institutions in the DRC to advance an informed national debate on transitional justice and to implement specific accountability initiatives.

Women at the Heal Africa Transit Center for women victims of sexual violence. Aubrey Graham.

Background: Ongoing Carnage

Laurent Kabila’s 1996–1997 campaign to depose the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko set off a violent civil war and the extended presence in eastern Congo by Rwandan and Ugandan armies. The conflict involved to varying degrees over a dozen African countries. While the conflict officially ended with a peace agreement in 2002, human rights violations and international crimes continue at very high levels in complex conflicts in the country’s east.

The successive wars in the DRC have been described as the deadliest since World War II. An estimated 5.4 million people died from war-related causes between August 1998 and April 2007.

In addition to the country’s immense mineral wealth, the dynamics in the east include local land disputes, inter-ethnic tensions, and widespread unemployment. These factors drive continued conflicts in the region, where the state fails to protect the Congolese people amidst widespread insecurity.

Members of government forces, foreign and national armed groups and armies have all targeted civilians in flagrant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. These include murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced displacement, recruitment of child soldiers, and forced labor. But for a handful of cases, perpetrators remain unpunished

Successive Congolese governments have made limited progress with transitional justice efforts. A flawed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—which failed to investigate atrocities or hold public hearings to establish the truth about the conflict and the mass killings—operated during the transition from July 2003 to February 2007.

In 2004, the Congolese government invited the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute war crimes that had occurred since July 2002. The ICC issued arrest warrants for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui—whose trials have been underway in The Hague since 2009.

ICTJ's Role:

ICTJ works on several different transitional justice fronts in the DRC.

  • Criminal prosecutions: We work with the Ministry of Justice and international donors to reform the legal system. We share knowledge about prosecuting international war crimes in the domestic legal system, including publishing comments on the proposed Special Chambers implementation bill.
  • Truth-seeking and memorialization: We train civil society groups to document abuses. We analyzed and reported on the problematic TRC.
  • Reparations: We support local, national and international reparations efforts, and have published a report on judicial reparations. We promote the International Court of Justice’s decision requiring Uganda to pay reparations for human rights violations committed by Ugandan forces in the Congo.
  • Gender justice: We partner with women’s rights organizations and plan advocacy campaigns to end the ongoing commission of sexual violence by security forces. This includes submitting a declaration on steps needed to implement SC Resolution 1325 in the DRC.
  • Institutional reform: We advocate for and advise on initiatives to reform the security sector. In 2009, we organized training programs for civil society groups on the links between transitional justice and police reform.