ICTJ Brings Together the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania to Discuss Response to International Crimes


By Myriam Raymond-Jetté, head of ICTJ office in DRC

Eastern DRC continues to be affected by conflict and serious crimes continue to be committed against civilians living in the area by the national army (FARDC), national armed groups, and foreign armed forces. Holding perpetrators accountable is essential to dismantling the structures that allow the ongoing cycle of abuses to continue in the DRC.

The porous borders the country shares with neighbors in the Great Lakes Region greatly complicate any effort to ensure justice is done. This has allowed certain states to harbor or protect some of the worst perpetrators who were able to hide by simply crossing the border.

With the signing of the Peace Security and Cooperation Framework in Addis Abeba (2013), 11 states pledged to take concrete measures to "put an end to recurring cycles of violence" that has afflicted civilians in Eastern DRC. Yet, despite the political commitments, the investigation and prosecution of domestic and international crimes continue to be severely affected by the lack of appropriate judicial cooperation among the states of the region.

With this in mind, ICTJ has focused a significant portion of its work on criminal justice in the DRC on trying to facilitate such regional cooperation. As part of this effort, on March 15-16, ICTJ is for this first time bringing together the relevant national authorities and specialized prosecutors from the DRC and neighboring countries of Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda for high-level discussion and planning. The objective is to facilitate contact, exchanges and discussions between relevant national authorities on the technical and operational (rather than political) level, to discuss their respective national legislative and procedural frameworks.

The event is happening in coordination with the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) and collaboration of the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of Defense as well as the the Office of the Military General Prosecutor.

The conference comes at a very significant time. Ladislas Ntaganzwa, indicted since 1996 by International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for charges of genocide against Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide was arrested in Eastern DRC on December 9, 2015, and should be transferred from Kinshasa to the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (UNMICT) after numerous exchanges between the DRC and Rwanda. Ladislas was among the fugitives referred from the ICTR’s prosecutor to Rwanda under article 11 bis of the ICTR statute.

Also, Jamil Mukulu, head of the Ugandan armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), was arrested in Tanzania and extradited to his home country, Uganda, in 2015. In Uganda, Mukulu is allegedly responsible for a series of attacks in the west between 1998 and 2000, which led to more than 1,000 deaths. Yet, Mukulu was also wanted by the DRC for atrocities committed in the Beni area, North Kivu. Because Mukulu is facing different charges in Uganda and the DRC, participants at tomorrow’s conference are likely to discuss the case and the possibility of extraditing him to the DRC.

The meeting, which will take place tomorrow and on Wednesday in Kinshasa, comes as culmination of a long lasting effort. Two years ago, ICTJ made the strategic decision to move its field office in the DRC from the capital Kinshasa to Goma in the eastern part of the country. The principal rationale behind this was to be based closer to where violations amounting to international crimes are committed, to help catalyze their investigation and prosecution. This has allowed us to work more directly with prosecutors, judicial authorities, victims and civil society activists coming from communities affected by these crimes.

Bearing in mind the lack of infrastructure, which greatly contributes to the disconnect between the capital and the eastern part of the country, to be based in Goma has enabled us to inform our work with the specific challenges met by our Congolese counterparts when they attempt to prosecute international crimes. Crucially, we were able to establish channels of consultation with the Congolese authorities from Eastern DRC and Kinshasa, and this has proven instrumental to the work that we do in the DRC, which in the last year focused on regional cooperation.

We have spent the last year planning and preparing tomorrow’s conference, and this included drafting of a baseline working document assessing the current regional judicial cooperation framework in the region, numerous bilateral meetings with national counterparts, and coordination efforts with the UNJHRO and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region. As this work comes to fruition in gathering representatives of these key states to discuss technical aspects of regional cooperation, the hope is that its conclusions will inform the high level meeting of government representatives of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, which is to be held in Nairobi in April.

Ultimately, the goal of this effort is to ensure that the key states in the region work together to bring perpetrators of atrocities to justice and deter future crimes in eastern DRC. Tomorrow’s conference is a significant first step in that direction.

Read our latest report "The Accountability Landscape in Eastern DRC: Analysis of the National Legislative and Judicial Response to International Crimes (2009–2014)."

Update: Read the conference report in English and French.

PHOTO: Myriam Raymond-Jetté at the launch of ICTJ's report on prosecutions of international crimes in the DRC on July 17, 2015, in Goma, Eastern DRC. (ICTJ)