DRC: how rampant impunity for crimes leads to endless cycles of violence

Thierry Michel

Paris, Nairobi, March 16, 2022. With today’s release in French cinemas of Thierry Michel’s latest film, "L’Empire du Silence", the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the League of Voters (LE), the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADHO) and the Lotus Group (GL), call on the congolese authorities and their partners to engage in concrete efforts to fight impunity for the gravest crimes in the DRC.

In his latest documentary, "L’Empire du Silence", Thierry Michel retraces the different cycles of violence and impunity for crimes committed in the DRC since the 1990s. We see and hear victims, witnesses, perpetrators, and those responsible for these serious crimes throughout the DRC. Activists in the fight against impunity, including 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr Denis Mukwege, [1], other actors in this struggle such as former members of UN investigation teams and local journalists, are featured.

The film is based partly on the findings of the 2010 Mapping project report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which lists the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed in the DRC between 1993 and 2003. More than ten years after the publication of this report, the FIDH and and its member organisations in the DRC regret that no follow-up has been made regarding our recommendations, despite the efforts of several civil society actors to encourage the Congolese authorities to open investigations and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, so that the victims may finally have effective access to truth, justice and reparation. Our organisations have been working to support the implementation of this report for over 10 years through advocacy, support, and awareness-raising activities at the local, national, and international levels.

Even before the Mapping Project report, FIDH and its Congolese member organisations documented the serious human rights violations committed and supported survivors in their quest for truth, justice, and reparation. They documented many crimes committed in 2002 and 2003 in the east of the country and published several reports. [2]

They transmitted testimonies of victims and witnesses of "Operation Wipe the Board" to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an investigation in June 2004 into the international crimes committed in the DRC since July 2002. Several Congolese survivors of crimes committed in Ituri in 2002, represented by FIDH lawyers, were recognized in 2006 as participating victims at the ICC investigation stage. [3] FIDH and its member organisations supported the opening and holding of trials at the ICC in the cases against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga, and Bosco Ntaganda, calling for effective victim participation, adequate outreach programs to affected communities, as well as meaningful reparations measures for victims [4]. They also called for the establishment of a Mixed Specialised Court in DRC to try international crimes committed in the country. Our organisations welcome the recent arrest of Roger Lumbala and the opening of a judicial investigation against him in France for his role in crimes against humanity committed in Ituri province in 2002-2003.

Our organisations support the campaign against impunity in the DRC through the film initiative entitled "Justice for Congo". Recently, they joined the initiative of the Collective of young Congolese volunteer activists who launched a memorial of the Mapping Report online sponsored by Dr Mukwege. In this context, our organisations supported the petition of NGOs initiated by the National Survivors Network in the DRC, the Panzi Foundation (DRC and USA), and the Mukwege Foundation, addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, calling for support and assistance to the Congolese authorities to implement the report’s recommendations.

"Since at least the 1990s, we, the Congolese people, have suffered this violence and we see that these crimes continue again and again, with rampant impunity. Yet, the evidence is there. The victims are sometimes still alive to testify. What are we waiting for to open investigations and prosecute those responsible!"

Paul Nsapu, FIDH vice president

FIDH and its members in the DRC also recall that other serious crimes continue to be committed in the country since 2003, generated by growing impunity. Our organisations have thus investigated the serious crimes committed in December 2018 in Yumbi, in the province of Maï-Ndombe, and then those committed in the provinces of Kasaï during the pre-electoral period from 2016 to 2018. For over ten years, our organisations have called for truth and justice in the case of those responsible for the assassination of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya and the disappearance of his driver Fidèle Bazana. This case had inspired one of Thierry Michel’s previous films, "L’affaire Chebeya, un crime d’Etat?" which FIDH and its member organisations supported when it was released in France in 2012. While trials have been opened in these cases, our organisations deplore the scant progress made in these cases and the fact that those responsible for these crimes are still in office or even promoted.

FIDH and its member organisations in the DRC therefore call on the Congolese authorities, with the help of their partners, to promptly implement a holistic response to the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes, as part of a broader framework of transitional justice through, among other things:
 the opening of independent, impartial and transparent investigations into cases ;
 the implementation of a "vetting" process within the DRC’s defence and security forces, and the adoption of a national plan for reparations to victims of serious human rights violations, including a specific programme for victims of sexual violence ;
 the establishment of mediation and support mechanisms for victims and affected communities ;
 the implementation of necessary reforms to ensure the effectiveness, impartiality, and independence of the judicial system


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