Respect for the rule of law and public trust in an independent judiciary are crucial elements for building a healthy democracy. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an armed conflict costing millions of lives over the last three decades has weakened the country’s justice system. The European Union reacted to the Congolese peoples’ need for justice by supporting the creation of Prosecution Support Units. These Units aim to help the civil and military authorities in bringing perpetrators of serious offences, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, homicide and sexual violence, to justice.
Photo: Trained defence and prosecution layers take part in the mobile court’s hearing in South Kivu.
The sheer number of crimes committed has overwhelmed the Congolese justice system, beset by a challenges in investigating offences and carrying out successful prosecutions. In addition, Fighting continues to leave some regions isolated, while victims and witnesses not only are unprotected from armed attackers but also unable to access justice. This reality undermines public trust and confidence in the authorities’ ability to render justice.
The European Union reacted to the Congolese peoples’ need for justice by supporting the creation of Prosecution Support Units. These Units aim to help the civil and military authorities in bringing perpetrators of serious offences, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, homicide and sexual violence, to justice.
For too long, a culture of impunity in much of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has enabled both security forces and armed groups to harm civilians. Both sides have been accused of sexual violence and rape, but few offenders have been identified or prosecuted. Sexual violence is often used as a strategy of war, to humiliate and demoralise enemies and destroy the social fabric. It has a devastating impact on communities where women are often alone with their children.
The project has helped to reinforce a justice system that lacked the resources, experience or technical expertise to prosecute perpetrators. “The goal is to restore social cohesion, public confidence in justice and give the victims and communities back their dignity,” explains Olivier Tshibola, programme analyst for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Building on an earlier phase of the initiative launched in 2011, the project set out to establish or support seven Prosecution Support Units in North Kivu (Goma and Beni), South Kivu (Bukavu), Katanga (Lubumbashi and Kalemie) and the Eastern Province (Kisangani and Bunia).
Each Prosecution Support Unit brings together criminal prosecutors, experienced police investigators and international experts within a so-called consultation framework. Supported by the EU, this consultation framework involves the United Nations Organisation Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), UNDP, non-governmental organisations and other technical and financial partners.
While the project has helped the authorities in enforcing the rule of law and respect for human rights, “one of the benefits has been the link between the military and civil justice systems,” emphasises Alain Decoux, European Commission Programme Manager based in Kinshasa.
“Military justice was more developed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the past, but we have reinforced the strength of civil justice.” Instead of competition, there is now a culture of cooperation between the two systems.
Strengthening the Justice Reform
Photo: A statement being made to the mobile military court in Kalehe Territory, South Kivu.
The project has changed the way the justice system works, says Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa, a former military prosecutor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and now prosecutor for the Special Penal Court in the Central African Republic: “The Prosecution Support Units have led to a better approach in the investigation of cases.”
A prioritisation mechanism makes it possible to select and pursue important cases. There is more efficient planning and coordination, involving multidisciplinary teams of investigators, pooling of available resources and using techniques such as phone tapping. Mr. Tshibola explains that protecting victims and witnesses from alleged perpetrators, often powerful and armed, was a major challenge. An additional challenge is the isolation of remote regions where massacres took place. Despite a shortage of resources, the project set up new mechanisms for the protection of victims and witnesses, enabling them to feel safer in coming forward to testify, he says.
Mr Muntazini explains that these improvements benefit both victims and accused. “The investigation is more impartial,” he says. The training of defence lawyers leads to fairer trials, while monitoring and debriefing after court sessions allow gaps to be identified and better anticipated, he adds. Mobile courts enable victims to see justice at work, and the involvement of NGOs in military proceedings has been decisive.
“In parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is the first time in history that trials have been held in open court,” he adds. “For the first time, the people in these areas saw offenders considered as untouchable punished by the law. This has led to renewed confidence and a sense of security for the population.”
“Many victims have had their rights restored while several killers are now in detention, sending a clear message to all parties in the conflict,” agrees Mr Tshibola.
Justice for Victims
The most historic ruling came in December 2017, when provincial leader Frédéric Batumike and tenCongolese militia fighters were convicted for the rape and murder of 37 children in Kavumu (Bukavu) and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. The justice served was a victory for the families and their supporters. It was also the first time a sitting government official had been found guilty of responsibility for crimes committed by his militia. Since then, no such offences have been recorded in the area.
For the mothers of the victims, the relief was enormous. “God bless those who led the initiative to stop the killings. We could not have done it alone,” said one. Two of her 12 children were abducted. “Even if we are very poor, security and peace are enough for us. “I went crazy after the rape of my child,” said another. “I had lost hope. Thanks to psychological support, I was able to resume living my life. The people who support us continue to care – without them, we would not have had this justice.” Victims and their families received medical care and counselling, as well as help to reintegrate children back into school. “Before, we spent the night watching. Today we can close our eyes because there is justice.”
According to the April 2018 report of the UN Joint Human Rights Office, the project continues to deliver results. The same month, in South Kivu, Lt-Col Maro Ntumwa received a 20-year sentence for war crimes including sexual slavery, mass rape, attacks on the civilian population and looting. At the same time, many challenges still lie ahead for the fight against impunity. Many crimes are yet to be investigated, including those behind the mass graves at Maluku.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is active in some 170 countries and territories worldwide, combatting poverty, inequalities and exclusion, and helping countries to develop policies, leadership skills and institutional capabilities to foster development. One of its three main areas of work is strengthening democratic governance and peace-building. MONUSCO is the UN’s stabilisation mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, established in 2010 by Resolution 1925 of the UN Security Council, inter-alia to help protect the civilian population and support the government’s peace-building efforts.
Managed by the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) provides short- and mid-term assistance on conflict prevention, crisis-response and peace-building actions around the world. There are currently around 200 projects in over 75 countries. These IcSP projects are implemented by Non-Governmental Organisations, the UN and other International Organisations, EU Member State agencies and regional and sub-regional organisations.
For more information:
- The EU's Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP)
- The United National Development Programme (UNDP) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Reinforcement of the justice system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and effective planning of lawsuits.
- Qualitative and quantitative improvement in the performance of military and civil courts.
- Establishment of a Congolese jurisprudence on international crimes.
- Enhanced public trust in the Democratic Republic of the Congo justice system. Acceleration and settlement of many cases that had been under investigation for years.
Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Project Name: Projet d’appui à la justice militaire en République Démocratique du Congo à travers le renforcement des Cellules d’Appui aux Poursuites – CAP (phase 2)
Implementing partner: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Organisation Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO Justice Section)
Project duration: 01/02/2015 - 31/12/2018
EU funding: EUR 3 200 000