Justice in Democratic Republic of the Congo is mainly accessible to and protects the powerful, those who run the system, the politically connected, and the rich who influence decision making and can pay for years of trials. The poor and powerless are prosecuted and exploited with little or no hope except by subscribing to indigenous mechanisms of justice and other extra-judicial methods of mediation.

On the occasion of the 49th anniversary of Congolese independence on June 30, 2009, Congolese President Joseph Kabila said: “Today, justice is itself on the bench of the accused. …It is time for agents of justice to choose their camp: either serve or more martyrize a people already ravaged and tested by years of conflict and violence.” The Catholic Bishops echoed the president’s message on July 10 in these terms: “The weakening of the state’s authority is mainly felt by the people in our neighborhoods and villages where assassinations, rape, and robbery occur without punishment…” For many years, the Congolese people have been calling for justice to restore state authority and the people’s rights, but this has yet to materialize.

Establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Can the Congo set the clock forward without setting it back and correct the mistakes that have been made? Can it deal with more than three decades of dictatorship followed by 13 years of war that claimed approximately 6 million lives? Before the war, the late President Mobutu tried to answer the people’s cry for justice, accountability, and good governance by agreeing to hold a National Conference (“Conference National Souveraine”) led by Bishop Monsengwo Pasinya in 1991. Soon after, he boycotted the conference before it finished its work because he and his collaborators did not want to face the truth and account for crimes, mismanagement, and all kinds of violations against the Congolese people.
In 1996, Congo was invaded by its neighbor Rwanda, provoking a war that involved many Congolese warlords who were politically positioning themselves and serving Rwanda’s interests. Mediators brokered a peace deal during negotiations in Sun City, South Africa in 2003. The peace agreement included a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as one of the institutions of the transitional government and the democratic process. It was signed into law (n0 04/018) by the transitional government president, Joseph Kabila, in 2004. The TRC was not a criminal court, rather, it originated as “a forum for dialogue and unification of the Congolese people by persuasion instead of constraint, but ended up mainly managing pre-electoral, electoral and post electoral conflicts and reconciliation of political and military actors,” said TRC’s President Bishop Jean-Luc Ndondo.
In a speech in 2004, Bishop Jean-Luc, said that its objectives were to reestablish the truth, promote peace, justice, reparation, forgiveness, and reconciliation in order to consolidate national unity. This included accompanying Congolese citizens in the transition; preventing and managing conflict by mediation; establishing the truth about political, social, and economic violations that happened in DRC between 1960-2003; leading efforts to heal trauma; and reestablishing trust between different Congolese ethnic communities and encouraging pacific cohabitation and eradicating tribalism, regionalism, intolerance, exclusion, and hate in its all forms.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Mission Overturned

In 2008, at the peace conference in Goma, Bishop Jean –Luc attributed the failure of the TRC to an unfavorable political condition. Leaders of the transitional government included warlords and members of the former dictatorial regime who ruined the country for 32 years. Because they were on the list of the accused, they prevented the TRC from revealing the whole truth. They undermined its efforts by violating its independence and its financial autonomy.
In addition, the international community disapproved of the establishment of the commission during the transition. It predicted that it would be hard to carry out investigations in militarized zones in the Kivu provinces and that those in power would not allow the truth to be told because of their own complicity in crime. So, they withheld their assistance and hardly collaborated. Finally, Bishop Jean-Luc recommended the creation of a new National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a National Pacification Commission and a Follow-Up Commission to carry out the recommendations to be made by the first two commissions.
In the interest of peace, justice, and reconciliation, Africa Faith and Justice Network believes that an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be a step forward for a stable and unified Congo. In our advocacy efforts to the US government, we urge the US government to encourage and support this call by the Congolese people to their government. The success of this program depends on the participation of the grassroots – it will empower them and take them from the margin to the center.

By Ntama Bahati Jacques

This articles was part of AFJN’s July-August, 2009 Around Africa Newsletter