Coalition to Dept. of State: DRC’s Judiciary Reforms are Unconstitutional

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On June 30, 2020, the Africa Faith and Justice Network was one of the signers of the “Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Proposed Judiciary Reforms are devastating and Unconstitutional,” letter sent to the Honorable Ambassador Tibor P. Nagy, Jr., the Assistant Secretary Bureau of African Affairs at the United States Department of State. The letter argued that the proposed reforms in the new bill are unconstitutional because of: the separation of the branches of government as defined by the articles of the DRC’s constitution and the prohibition of any reforms during a state of urgency. Other signing organizations included: Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (USA), Helping Hand for Survivors (USA), Oasis Network (USA), Reseau de Lutte contre la Faim (Cameroun), and Water Citizens Network (Ghana)

Full text of the letter is below.
Click here for a pdf version.


June 30, 2020

Honorable Ambassador Tibor P. Nagy, Jr.
Assistant Secretary Bureau of African Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Re: Democratic Republic of Congo’s Proposed Judiciary Reforms are devastating and Unconstitutional

Dear Ambassador Nagy,

We, the undersigned organizations, write to you to call your attention and request your diplomatic involvement to discourage the ongoing parliamentary efforts to get rid of the constitutional independence of the judiciary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

This is of utmost importance to the United States (U.S.) and other countries who have interests in the DRC as it is causing political uncertainty and is potentially able to cause instability with very serious socio-economic effects on millions of Congolese and foreign interests including those of the US. Your solidarity with the Congolese people now as they fight to save the institution they count on so much to root out corruption would be appreciated. The proposed reforms will enable corruption to further reign and the improvements in transparency and accountability that have been made thus far will be undermined.

In violation of article 149 of the constitution which stipulates that “The judicial power is independent of the Legislative Power and of the Executive Power,” the DRC parliament is fast tracking a bill which if passed will completely remove the independence of DRC’s judicial system for all the wrong reasons. Furthermore, judicial independence like the presidential term limit and a few other provisions is part of the constitutional guarantees which cannot ever be revised in accordance with article 220 of the Constitution which says that “[…] the number and the duration of the mandates of the President of the Republic, the independence of the Judicial Power […] cannot be made the object of any constitutional Revision.

The proposed unconstitutional reforms are an attempt to make the judiciary system answerable to the Minister of Justice. This goal violates article 151 of the constitution which says that “The executive power may neither give orders to a judge in the exercise of his jurisdiction, nor decide on disputes, nor obstruct the course of justice, nor oppose the execution of a decision of justice.” The spirit of the proposed reforms is to further put the justice system on its knees and powerless so that it can continue to serve the interests of the powerful and the connected. Article 152 clearly says that “The Superior Council of the Magistrature is the organ of management of the judicial Power,” not the Minister of Justice.

Since His Excellency Felix Tshisekedi became DRC’s President, he made it clear that unlike the previous regimes he was going to respect the independence of the Judiciary as it is stipulated in the Constitution. As a result, judges have finally begun to do their job. On June 20, 2020 the President’s Chief of Staff Mr. Kamerhe Vital was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor and seizure of monies in his bank accounts and also the accounts of three family members including his wife. His crime was corruption and embezzlement of more than 50 Million US Dollars destined to building housing for the army and police. Other officials have been jailed, fined millions and more investigations are ongoing. As of late those who previously managed the country have become fearful of being investigated for past mismanagement of the nation’s resources. This is precisely what is needed for true reform and to put an end to corruption in the DRC, but the proposed reforms will provide legal cover to the country’s powerful corrupt politicians and other officials and avoid prosecution once again.

It would be better for the parliament to stop these reforms than dealing with the negative political, economic and social ramifications which will follow. As Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, it is with a sense of urgency that we are asking you to:

  1. Join us in advocating for halting these unconstitutional reforms. Please, use your influence to encourage members of parliament to put the country first by opposing these reforms.
  2. Work with your European and other African countries counterparts to call for the respect of the constitution in order to avoid another crisis and possibly loss of lives.
  3. Consider visa and financial sanctions against authors and some key supporters of these reforms starting with the Honorables Aubin Minaku et Gary Sakata for undermining the democratic nature of checks and balances of the DRC.
  4. Support the judicial system by strengthening its capacity in order to efficiently carry out its mission. An independent Judiciary will be able to prosecute corrupt officials and the DRC will be able to recover billions of dollars of stolen funds.
  5. Support independent media and civil society organizations which are key to building a true democracy.

The DRC needs strong institutions including an independent judicial system to render equitable justice no matter the social class or political affiliation. For far too long a tiny minority has controlled the judiciary system in DRC and with these reforms they want to continue to remain above the law. We need your voice and solidarity with citizens of the DRC as they fight to prevent the proposed reforms of the judiciary from undermining their hope for justice and a nation of rights.

We thank you for your consideration and are happy to discuss this matter further with you.

Sincerely,

Africa Faith and Justice Network (USA)
Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (USA)
Helping Hand for Survivors (USA)
Oasis Network (USA)
Reseau de Lutte contre la Faim (Cameroun)
Water Citizens Network (Ghana)

Cc: Ambassador Michael A. Hammer, U.S. Embassy Kinshasa,Democratic Republic of the Congo

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