Challenging the culture of impunity

It has been a strange few weeks for justice on the African continent, more particularly in the DRC – almost paradoxical.

On February 26-27, African leaders gathered in Kinshasa to attend the 17th Summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). Among the invitees: Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir who is subject to an ICC arrest warrant on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur.

Shortly before his trip, almost 90 NGOs and the ICC urged Congolese authorities to arrest Al-Bashir. As a state party to the Rome Statute of ICC, the DRC had obligations to do so – yet it failed meet them. Why? According to government spokesperson Lambert Mende, the DRC had obligations vis-à-vis Comesa and the African Union. The AU has not only asked for Al-Bashir’s warrants to be suspended but its members are also against ICC criminal proceeding against sitting presidents. Is there a legal basis for this? The UN UN Security Council certainly rejected the demand. However, the AU’s position and growing resentment of the ICC is largely the result of the members’ perception of a biased application of the law against Africans.

This is not the first time Bashir is allowed to travel to a country that is party to the Rome Statute  – ChadDjibouti and Nigeria failed to arrest him as well – but the DRC has cooperated with the ICC in the past. Kinshasa’s decision not to arrest Bashir seems all the more hypocritical and appalling as Congolese people have themselves been the victims of mass atrocities for the past two decades. The decision is therefore not only an affront to Darfuri victims but to Congolese people as well. When it gets an opportunity to proof that it wants to fight impunity, Congolese authorities instead perpetuate both the conflict in Darfur and the culture of impunity.


Now to another story

Last week, the ICC convicted Congolese warlord Germain Katanga on five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for being an accessory to the 2003 massacre of civilians in the village of Bogoro, Ituri, DRC. In 2003, the FRPI attacked Bogoro and killed at least 200 civilians – mostly ethnic Hema. The combatants also raped women and used child soldiers during the attack.  As the commander of the FRPI, Katanga was convicted of being an accessory to the massacre by planning the attack and providing weapons. ICC prosecutors stated that the onslaught was designed to “wipe out” the population of Bogoro.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant against Katanga in July 2007 and Congolese authorities, who arrested him in 2005, surrendered Katanga to the ICC 3 months later (here you have a proof that Kinshasa has cooperated with the international court). Katanga was originally charged with seven counts of war crimes and three counts crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, he as acquitted of charges of rape and using child soldier.


The verdict is a crucial step for the victims, 363 of which participated in the case, and for the ICC. Justice is critical for Congolese people and for the future of the Congo. However, numerous perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC remain free. In his inaugural address in 2013, President Joseph Kabila promised to prosecute those who support armed groups responsible for grave human rights violations. Yet his promise to fight impunity remains to be fulfilled. I do not deny the dilemma Kinshasa was facing, especially as it tries to maintain good relations with the members of the AU, but the failure to arrest Al-Bashir is another failure to address the impunity gap in the Congo and on the continent.


Links round-up

Reporting on African conflicts

In “In defence of western journalists in Africa” Michela Wrong defends journalists against those (usually academics) who are quick to criticize the way they report on a conflict, especially in Africa. I think it is pretty well argued. Journalists are not academics and do not pretend to be. They write for a very different, in a different environment, under different restrictions, and for much larger audience.

“More fundamentally, the writers seem to have lost sight of the definition of news, which aims to convey distant events to a non-specialist audience as succinctly as possible. That’s a lot easier to say than do.”

To academics who complain that journalists aren’t more “like them”, presenting the complexity of conflicts in 20 page articles, she answers “We don’t have time, we don’t have space, and anyway, that’s why you guys exist, remember?”

On the same topic: “South Sudan: are western journalists getting it wrong?”, Sterling Carter, The Guardian


Clinton Documents reveal more on US response to Rwandan genocide

The Clinton Presidential Library released new documents shedding light on the Administration’s response to the Rwandan genocide. The memo offers various responses to potential criticism of the US’ lack of response to the Rwandan genocide. The Guardian explains the background story behind the memos.


 America’s most dubious allies

Politico Magazine has an interesting long piece up its website “America’s 25 Most Awkward Allies” which stems from a phrase uttered by Susan Rice ““Let’s be honest,” she said, “at times … we do business with governments that do not respect the rights we hold most dear.” The Obama Administration made it clear from the beginning that it would privilege quite diplomacy to silence or confrontation. The magazine has therefor put together a list of America’s most dubious allies with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia making it on the top of the list. Of course there is also Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar but also on the list are lesser-known relationships with Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Obama was also the first president to visit countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia.

One of the interesting analysis is the relationship between the US and Rwandan president Paul Kagame. He has been a donor darling ever since he came to power, who commanded the RPF rebel forces during the 1994 genocide. The West, who certainly has reasons to feel guilty about not intervening during massacres, has responded by hailing Kagame as a visionary leader and commending him for allowing Rwanda to start recovering from the genocide in quite a remarkable way. Compared to its neighbours, Rwanda has taken quite an impressive economic and political turn. At the same time, Kagame’s fans are quick to forget that the Rwandan military killed civilians in the DRC and is still providing help to rebel groups, making the Congo one of most dramatic humanitarian crisis today. Kagame will also not hesitate to get rid of his opponents and dissidents in the most brutal ways. He is even very open about it: “betraying Rwanda brings consequences”, he says. He is a dictator but the West keeps portraying him as a progressive leader. As Condoleezza Rice (Former United States Secretary of State) apparently once said “The only thing we have to do is look the other way.” I wonder how long it will last but Kagame is certainly not leaving anytime soon.


The Democratic Republic of the Congo from the perspective of an Ambassador

The United States Institute for Peace hosted Ambassador Roger Meece who shared his perspectives on the DRC, a country that has experienced violent conflict and humanitarian crisis for two decades. As the former head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) Meece is in a good position to comment. In this presentation and Q&A, he shares his view on the conflict, the challenges, the regional implications, the UN’s engagement, and what lies ahead for the country.



 Where to with the Responsibility to Protect?

In “R2P: A Norm of the Past or Future?”, Simon Adams, the director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect reflects on the normative acceptance of R2P and the future of the doctrine. Adams acknowledges that the norm remains controversial and sometimes misunderstood. Some see it as an excuse to change a regime or “colonize” a territory, others regard the intervention in Libya and lack of intervention in Syria as a failure of R2P, and yet another group believes that the doctrine is “the fastest developing international norm in history” (emphasis on developing). What it is clear that “the circumstances that gave rise to the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect at the 2005 UN World Summit” have not ceased to exist. Contrary to what many might believe, there is growing acceptance for R2P: four UN Security Council Presidential Statements, more invocations in resolutions since 2011, and 30 countries have now adopted R2P Focal Points. Adams is good at reminding us that it takes time for norms such as R2P to be accepted, for sovereignty not to be seen not only as a right but as a responsibility. He reminds us that it took time to apply the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and there are still challenges 60 years later. “The Responsibility to Protect, like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is still only as strong as the determination of the international community to uphold its principles. We cannot let future normative progress be a prisoner of the past.”


African Solutions to African Problems

In Long road to an African rapid reaction force, IRIN looks at the African Union’s idea to create creation of a military capable of rapidly deploying to African countries experiencing crisis. “African solutions to African problems,” as one would say. The idea of an African Capacity for Immediate Responses to Crises (ACIRC) came a response to lack of progress made on the creation of the African Standby Force (ASF), which should have been set up by 2010 but was pushed back to 2015. It also came as a response to the fact that France has had to intervene in Mali and in the African Republic to support African troops already on the ground. African states see this as a humiliation. Yet the creation of the ACIRC is very challenging. South Africa and Algeria are all for it but Nigeria, another big power on the continent, isn’t exactly an active supporter. Then there is also the problem of meddling and partisanship (Chad supporting Seleka in CAR? Uganda and Rwanda in the DRC? Uganda’s involved in South Sudan). However, there is hope. In 2013, 75,000 African peacekeepers took part in UN and African missions. What is needed is leadership, organization, coordination and cooperation among the members of the AU.

For another article on the subject: “Africa can solve its own problems with proper planning and full implementation of the African Standby Force” – Institute for Security Studies