[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called Wednesday for justice system reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [BBC backgrounder]. The report [text, PDF] states that the justice system has allowed the Congolese army and other armed groups to engage in a “cycle of violence and human rights violations for decades,” alleging that the groups have engaged in torture, sexual violence and murder against citizens and that very few perpetrators have been brought to justice. AI called upon the DRC to prosecute all suspects under “international fair trial standards.” AI cited to a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] issued by the UN last year, which documented the most serious violations of human rights, including violence against children, genocide and mass rape, committed in the DRC between 1993 and 2003. In response to the UN report, the DRC government proposed the creation of a special court to handle cases involving such serious rights violations. In addition to this specialized court, the AI report laid out several recommendations to further assist in strengthening the country’s justice system. These recommendations include holding an international conference to develop a reform strategy, increasing the justice system budget, developing a legal aid program, abolishing the death penalty, providing greater protection to victims and witnesses, and adopting and enacting the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [text]. The AI also called on the UN, EU and other donors to provide financial and technical support to the DRC to ensure successful reform. AI said that the issue of reform must be a priority [statement] in the wake of the upcoming DRC presidential and legislative elections:
In the run up to Presidential and Legislative elections in DRC due to take place in November 2011, bringing perpetrators of crimes under international law to justice and ensuring reparations for victims must not just be an electoral priority; it must be translated into concrete measures…The neglected victims of these terrible crimes need justice – they must be able to contribute to the reform process in a meaningful way and have their voices heard by the government.
The report also points to poor conditions in the country’s prison system. AI visited two local prisons and found that they were filled beyond capacity. The report calls for reform to prison conditions and also greater protections against escape.
Last month, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] accusing soldiers in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) of committing mass rape. The report is the first to officially provide evidence that national forces perpetrated mass rape, as opposed to reports of opposition forces using it as a weapon [JURIST report]. In May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN Security Council [official websites] called for continued reforms [JURIST report] in the DRC in order to strengthen the country’s rule of law. DRC has been struggling with a number of human rights issues. In June, a military court sentenced four policemen to death [JURIST report] for killing prominent human rights activist Floribert Chebeya last year. In early October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called for the DRC government [JURIST report] to arrest general Bosco Ntaganda pursuant to an outstanding warrant for war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Earlier that same week French authorities arrested a leader [JURIST report] of the FDLR for crimes committed by that group in the DRC. In October, UN peacekeeping forces and the DRC government arrested Mai Mai Cheka [JURIST report] for allegedly leading a rebel group responsible for mass rapes in the country. In December 2009, HRW urged MONUC to stop funding military groups [JURIST report] in the country that are committing human rights abuses. MONUC has been operating in DRC since 1999. The conflict in the DRC has claimed more than four million lives and has been ongoing since 1983. MONUC has overseen elections and continues to provide armed protection for civilians in certain areas, particularly the North and South Kivus provinces.