"Efforts to fight impunity in Congo continue to struggle, as wanted war criminals freely lead military operations on behalf of the Congolese government." – John Prendergast, March 2011
In the Congo, most criminals are never tried for their crimes, and even those who are convicted can easily escape or bribe their way out of the country's weak prison system.
What is 'impunity'?
"Impunity: exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action." – Oxford English Dictionary
By allowing perpetrators to get away with crimes such as rape, torture, and murder, the Congolese government and international community are sending the message that crimes against humanity will go unpunished and the victims of crimes will never receive justice.
In October 2010 the United Nations published a mapping report on serious human-rights violations committed in Congo between 1993 and 2003. The report documented 617 alleged violent incidents, covering every province in the country. It also recognized that the Congolese legal system was incapable of ensuring justice for the reported crimes.
To hold perpetrators accountable, the Congolese government needs to create a court system where individuals accused of crimes are apprehended, tried according to established standards of fair and due process, and held accountable to Congolese society.
The Specialized Mixed Court Law
Congolese civil society is working to establish a specialized mixed court system—a Congolese national court with international involvement—to help end impunity, improve victims' access to justice, and strengthen the Congolese judicial system's capacity and willingness to effectively prosecute the most serious crimes.
In April 2011 representatives of Congolese civil society organizations from all 11 provinces of the Congo, with the support of international civil society organizations, agreed to the Specialized Mixed Court Law. This law outlines a plan to develop a court to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human-rights abuses committed on Congolese soil since 1990. The law is currently being debated in the Congolese Parliament.
Military and Civilian Mobile Courts
In July 2010 Mai Mai Cheka rebels raped 387 women and girls in the town of Walikale in eastern Congo. And in June 2011 FARDC soldiers raped 62 women and girls in the town of Fizi. In response to these attacks, the Congolese government, with support from the international community, created the mobile court initiative.
The mobile court system—sometimes referred to as mobile gender courts—primarily tries mass rape cases but can also be used for other crimes. In the first two-and-a-half years from October 2009 to May 2011, mobile courts heard 250 cases, convicted 195 criminals (75 percent for sex crimes), and trained 260 judicial officers.
For more information on the potential solutions, read "Time Works Against Justice: Ending Impunity in Eastern Congo.