Civilian and military magistrates tackling international crimes

Mar 27, 2017

Military magistrates delivering a provisional judgement at the Uvira military courthouse

Civilian and military magistrates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are now equipped to prosecute and punish international crimes committed on national territory. Around thirty civilian and military magistrates from South-Kivu have just updated their knowledge of war crimes, victim protection measures and methods for dealing with witnesses to international crimes. This took place during a skills-building workshop held in Bukavu from 20-23 February 2017.

As a reminder, the DRC ratified and published the Rome Statute, a legal framework to prevent violations of these kinds, in the Journal Officiel of the Democratic Republic of the Congo of 5 December 2002. The goal of this workshop, jointly organised by the UNDP through the Transitional Justice project, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and MONUSCO, was to train civilian and military magistrates on international crimes. The issues raised by civilian punishment of international crimes were debated, among other things. The sessions were animated by exchange, group work and thoughtful question-and-answer sessions.  


In fact, when it comes to handling cases of crimes against the peace and security of humanity, the Congolese judicial system suffers from certain deficiencies at a technical and operational level, notably gathering evidence and reviewing facts, among others. “Since 2013, the law has given the Court of Appeal jurisdiction to rule on serious crimes. And now, for those of us who are still at the public prosecutor level, this training reassures us, because when we reach a higher level, it will help us a great deal in ruling on the subject. These are subjects we learn about from lots of books, but with this training, we have had the opportunity to come face to face with instructors, to study cases, to ask questions and receive explanations,” explains Christine Kafutshi, deputy state prosecutor at the Uvira High Court.

The number of cases involving serious crimes that appear before civilian and military courts remains rather low. Nevertheless, the Congolese military judiciary is involved in prosecuting international crimes identified by the Rome Statute, confirms Espérance Awezay, advisor at the Bukavu appeals court. “Before, it was the military courts that heard crimes deemed ‘international’, but now, civilian courts are involved too. This training was invaluable because the subjects we are seeing are not things we studied at university. So it is a real bonus to us, especially since the law is evolving at both a national and international level.”

The Congolese authorities and their international partners have combined their efforts to strengthen the skills of judicial staff, provide assistance to victims, and offer support for inquiries and hearings. In this context, Cleophas Mikobi, advisor at the Supreme Court of Justice and representative of the president of the High Council of the Judiciary, confirms that “the relevance of the debates at the end of each presentation reflects the interest that participants have in the different themes developed. I would like to see other workshops on the same themes take place in other provinces of the country.”

Fatou Tandiang

About the Rome Statute

The Rome Statute was the international treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC). It was adopted at a diplomatic conference of plenipotentiaries of the United Nations, called the Rome Conference, which was held from 15 June to 17 July in Rome, Italy. It came into force on 1 July 2002 after being ratified by 60 states. This date marks the official creation of the International Criminal Court. However, since the court’s jurisdiction is not retroactive, it handles crimes committed since that date.

The Rome Statute also defines international crimes over which the Court has judicial authority, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as violent crimes, according to amendments made in 2010, if they are committed on the territory of a signatory state or by one of its nationals.  

In addition, the Rome Statue established new norms for the representation of victims in a courtroom and assures the right to a fair trial, as well as protecting the right to a defence. The Court is committed to implementing global cooperation to protect all people against the international crimes codified in the Rome Statute.

Article translated by Nick Lanigan

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