Violence in northeast DRC: the authorities and the international community must act now

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In a camp for displaced persons, 46 people (including many children) were killed during a massacre committed by CODECO (Coopérative pour le développement du Congo) while M23, a militia supported by Rwanda, is being held responsible for the mass graves. The cycle of violence ravaging the east of the country must be stopped. The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor’s recent visit and ICC’s opening of a preliminary examination are encouraging signs, which must be followed by action.

Paris, Nairobi, Kinshasa, 19 June 2023. Civilians, especially women and children, are paying the price for the international community’s weaknesses. For decades, the international community has not reacted to the cyclical episodes of unprecedented violence. Regional powers support militias guilty of atrocities, and the central government has been unable to guarantee lasting peace.

“Some parents are murdered in front of their children, while others see their children die before their very eyes, in an atmosphere of general chaos,” recalls Dismas Kitenge of Groupe Lotus, an FIDH member organisation in the DRC. “Where else in the world would such a situation be accepted? The people in eastern Congo deserve peace, just like the rest of humanity. Because of the scale of this violence, the national authorities and the international community must act quickly, better and, above all, concretely.”

There are many reasons for these cycles of violence, but the one that the international community could act on is impunity. The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has all the elements of an untenable situation pushed to the limit. With this in mind, national and international justice have a key role to play.

Karim Khan, ICC Prosecutor, in the DRC: a welcome visit that must be followed by action

On 1 June 2023, at the end of a four-day visit, the ICC Prosecutor and the DRC government signed a Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening their cooperation in the fight against impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the DRC. On 15 June, the Prosecutor stated that he had notified the judges that his office had been approached by the Congolese authorities about opening of an investigation into crimes committed in North Kivu since 1 January 2022.

“We have evidence of all these crimes committed against the Congolese people, and we are ready to work with the ICC on international criminal justice”, said Paul Nsapu, President of the League of Voters and Coordinator of the Commission nationale des droits de l’homme.

The Memorandum of Understanding reflects the principle of “positive complementarity” between the ICC and the State parties. This approach is based on complementarity rather than on competition. The Office of the Prosecutor will thus be able to provide support for national authorities through capacity-building for institutions responsible for handling international criminal cases, of which many are often complex.

Nineteen years after the ICC opened an investigation in the DRC that led to the conviction of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga and Bosco Ntaganda, the Congolese government referred to the ICC about the case of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the March 23 Movement (M23) in Kishishe, eastern DRC, since 2022. While the United Nations has condemned the M23 attacks and the European Union has urged Rwanda to stop supporting the rebel movement, the ICC Prosecutor has announced that he is opening a preliminary examination of the situation.

For many years, national and international human rights organisations working under difficult security conditions, and joined by UN agencies and national authorities, have been documenting these massacres.

Is there any hope for eastern DRC now that civil society is ready to collaborate with the ICC, and, further, the State and an ICC Prosecutor have signed a protocol aimed at ending this endless cycle of violence?

FIDH and its member organisations encourage the Office of the ICC Prosecutor and the DRC government to turn their words into actions and will do their utmost to support the initiatives of those concerned: impunity must end and peace must return.

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