Transitional Justice in DRC

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Statement of the problem

Transitional justice refers to a series of measures that are both judicial and non-judicial in addressing human rights issues and abuses. Some of the approaches to transitional justice have included truth commissions, criminal prosecutions, and reparation programs. The case study that follows considers the process of transitional justice in DRC, where the biggest challenge has been in the achievement of peace in the country. The Democratic Republic of Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and later on underwent a period of dictatorship under Mobutu Sese Seko from 1965 to 1997. According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, the presidency of Mobutu Sese Seko was characterized by neopatrimonialism and clientelism, with the president being notorious in trading public resources for political ends.

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The president was eventually overthrown during what was labeled as Africa’s World War from 1996 to 2003 where more than nine countries and international rebel groups were involved. It was Kabila’s campaign to dethrone Mobutu between 1996 and 1997 that sparked off a civil war in which Uganda and Rwanda were involved and where there were blatant human rights violations. Although the conflict officially ended in 2003 following the signing of a peace agreement by Uganda and Rwanda, the country is yet to achieve any peace and this has led to the presence of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in what has been the largest and most expensive UN mission. Some regions are still characterized by instability and warring militias and this is hampering the achievement of peace in this country. Different transitional justice models have been adopted, but this is yet to quell the violence in the country.

Background to the problem

In 1965, Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in the Democratic Republic of Congo and this was only five years after the country gained independence from Belgium. The five-year period was not enough to have any substantial state institutions to address the issues of a young country, yet the dictatorship of Sese Seko brought more carnage and dilapidation of the state institutions that had previously been weakened by institutionalized patronage. As such, the country was in disarray and Mobutu being in power did more harm than good to this young country.

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The dictator held on to power for 32 years and it was during the war of liberation in 1996 and 1997 that more human rights violations were experienced. During this war period, Rwanda and Uganda took part in the war that was concentrated in eastern DRC. Although the country needed liberation from Mobutu, it was the intervention of Laurent Kabila in taking power from the dictator that led to the war and carnage that has defined DRC as a war zone. It is important to note that the United States had been a supporter of Mobutu Sese Seko after he came to power but the US shifted their support in favor of new African leaders such as Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda. The two leaders would then later support Kabila in the war against Mobutu through the support of rebel groups under Kabila and later through the involvement of their armies in the war against Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu’s rule had encountered internal resistance since he first came to power and this further weakened the country. With a weak central state, it was easier for rebel groups to form in eastern DRC which is far from the capital Kinshasa where Mobutu would have little power in controlling the rebel movements.

Mobutu’s dictatorship had therefore played a large role in the emergence of rebel movements in the country and the involvement of the Rwandan and Ugandan forces. The conflict within the country started in 1996 and was characterized by human rights violations, sexual violence, and the conscription of child soldiers. Mobutu was ousted from power in 1997 and Kabila declared him-self president, where his first initiative was a violent crackdown in restoring order to the country. Under Kabila, DRC was no different from Mobutu’s rule as his rule was characterized by corruption and a centralization rule that reignited tensions within the minority groupings. The signing of the peace agreement by Uganda and Rwanda in 2003 did little to quell the violence in DRC as rebel movements in the country were still active and over 5.4 million people had died throughout the conflict. Different measures of transitional justice have been implemented but the country continues to roll in the ravages of civil conflicts.

Identifiable issues

One of the identifiable issues in this case study is such as the weak governance and institutions that have been incapable of addressing conflict and issues from their roots. The country gained independence from Belgium in 1960 while Mobutu’s corrupt and dictatorial regime took control of the country in 1965. The five-year period was not enough to have any strong state institutions and neither was Mobutu’s government capable of developing strong state institutions. The same happened under Kabila’s government that came to power under intense conflict aided by the Rwandan and Ugandan government. With all these factors affecting the ability to develop state institutions, it becomes impossible to exert the rule of law in a country that has always been defined by conflict. Without the rule of law, transitional justice may be impossible as strong state institutions are needed for both the judicial and non-judicial measures.

Another identifiable issue is that the economy and the management, as well as the control of resources, has been a recurrent issue and source of conflict in the country. The country is highly endowed with natural resources including diamonds, and the rebel groups view the control of resources as the main determinant in gaining power in the country. According to a 2015 report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the real cause of the conflict is not the availability of resources but rather the distributional aspect of the resources. The conflict has been characterized as such due to the fact that it arises from poor management of the resources and the unequal benefit distribution following exploitation. As such, as much as political issues play a role in fuelling conflicts in the country, resources also play a role.

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Further, conflicts within the country have been perpetuated by the availability of arms to these rebel movements and this means that the availability of arms will continue to pose a threat to the peace of this country. The availability of arms in the country further fuels the conflicts and renders peace efforts in the country impossible. As part of the transitional justice programs, one of the programs implemented in the country is the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), especially of the former combatants. According to reports from the country, the disarmament programs have failed as the combatants are opposed to getting back to a normal life that involves income generating activities. As such disarmament or the availability of guns in the community also poses a challenge to the peace efforts being initiated as part of the transitional justice.

Possible solutions

The solution to these identified issues should be addressed from the reparations theory of transitional justice. The model of reparation within transitional justice involves repairing the suffering that the human rights abuse victims. The main important theme within the reparations approach is ensuring that amends are made with the victims of the human rights abuses in helping them overcome the effects of the abuse through a rehabilitation approach. Some of the reparation approaches include giving compensation, psychological services, educational support, compensation for loss public apologies, and medical services. The United Nations has appreciated reparations as an approach necessary in the transition justice process but with a focus on communal involvement. In a March 2010 Guidance Note by the United Nations, the report notes that communal involvement is necessary for the success of the program and that reparation approaches can be effective complements to prosecution initiatives as well as truth-seeking processes.

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The importance of communal involvement in the reparation programs cannot be over-emphasized. As one of the approaches to the reparations, the Disarmament Demobilization and Rehabilitation (DDR) program that was focused on former combatants failed to take off due to the failure to involve the affected communities. The DDR program focused on giving cash grants to former combatants who were also supposed to lay off their guns but the program was first unsuccessful due to the fact that the grant was too small for the individuals who had to begin their lives all over again. Another important impediment to the program was the fact that the community was not involved as the repatriation focused on the former combatants. From this view, the community had resentment as they saw as if those responsible for the conflict were being rewarded for their efforts. The combatants were the same individuals that brought about deprivation and misery in the community. As such, it was difficult for the community to see the grant efforts as part of the repatriation programs that are essential in ensuring peace in the community. As a better approach to the DDR program, the grants being offered should have been used as a way of financing income and employment generating developments that would benefit the entire community. Further, the community should have been involved in defining the type of development that they see fit. Through such an approach to reparations, the healing process will begin as the combatants and the victims will be sharing in an economically viable project.

Through reparations efforts with a focus on communal involvement, the important issues within this community and affecting peace efforts will be addressed. The reparation and disarmament program will be effective in the achievement of peace and ensure that the guns being used in this conflict are no longer available. Further, an economic focus will ensure that there is economic progression and the means to support these communities and in ensuring that they are not vulnerable to political control that has been one of the factors driving conflict.

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As one important recommendation, the state and non-state actors should focus on reparation initiatives that focus on communal involvement. The community should be involved in these efforts that seek to promote peace in the country as this will also pave way for other developments including social and economic areas. As part of the communal involvement that will see the progression of the country, there should be considerations on the recruitment of reformed militia combatants in the country’s army. Such will oversee the defection of the militia from conflict based movements and towards taking part in an activity that is not far from what they have been involved in during the conflicts.

Another important recommendation is that the international community and non-state actors should focus on supporting the country’s government in its quest to establish strong state institutions. One of the factors driving the inability to create strong state institutions is the lack of support of the centralized state by the local communities. With the local communities having experienced nothing but corruption, weak governance, and war since the country gained independence, there have been conflicting relations between the local communities and the centralized state. The international community should help restore faith in the country’s governance as a way of creating strong state institutions that will help restore law and order and ensure that certain crimes do not go unpunished.

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Anticipated outcomes

Through the implementation of the recommendations above, the country will not only see the progression of peace but there will be economic, political, and social developments. The recommendations outlined above provide solutions to the problems that have bedeviled this country since it gained independence. Some of the transitional justice approaches such as the judicial measures in the trial of warlords at the ICC have been ineffective in bringing about healing in this community. As much as the judicial processes are important, the non-judicial measures such as the reparation approaches should take center stage and the community that has been affected by the conflict feels left out. The community members may even be unaware of the existing judicial processes or the advantages that they are intended to bring, but the application of non-judicial measures that the community can see will yield favorable outcomes in ensuring peace and the progression of the country. Ending conflicts in the country is the important goal of any transitional justice program and this should be followed up with the establishment of strong state institutions that oversee the maintenance of peace in the country. Further, implementing the measures above will ensure that economic, political, and social developments take root in the country.

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  1. Gribbin, Robert.  In the Aftermath of Genocide: the U.S. Role in Rwanda. New York: IUniverse, 2005.
  2. ICTJ. The Democratic Republic of Congo. 2017. Accessed March 19, 2017,
  3. Kennes, Erik. “The Democratic Republic of the Congo: Structures of Greed, Networks of Need.”Rethinking the Economics of War. Ed. Cynthia J. Arnson and I. William Zartman.         Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center, 2005.
  4. Kisangani, Emezeki. Civil Wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1960-2010. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012.
  5. Reyntjens, Filip. The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
  6. Stearns, Jason. Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011.
  7. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of  Congo: Causes, impact, and implications for the Great Lakes Region. Addis Ababa: ECA, 2015.
  8. United Nations, Guidance Note of the Secretary General: United Nations Approach to  Transitional Justice. March 2010.  Accessed March 19, 2017,   
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