Tuesday, August 26, 2008


A press release from Transnational Justice bluntly states:

"Nearly half the adult population of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has faced death threats, suffered beatings or has been enslaved by armed groups, according to a new survey undertaken in the region. One third of the 2,620 people interviewed reported having been abducted for a week or more. Yet a large majority (85%) of the population believe that those responsible for the violence must be held accountable."

This from an extensive new survey analysis "Living With Fear: A Population-Based Survey on Attitudes about Peace, Justice, and Social Reconstruction in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo."

So, if we are the world, where the hell are we and where the hell have we been while the horrors continued year after year in the Congo.

The fighting in eastern Congo has been described as the deadliest since World War II. The International Rescue Committee estimated that 5.4 million "excess deaths" occurred there between August 1998 and April 2007. And it didn't end then.

Every side of this conflict is to blame.

And the rest of the world has been pretty uninterested in the whole thing.

Though rich in diamonds, copper, gold and other minerals, most of Congo's people — including its security forces — remain poor and desperate. The government has struggled to end sporadic fighting in the lawless east, where marauding militias have held sway since Rwanda's 1994 genocide spilled chaos across the border.

Over the last year, skirmishes have broken out in the region between the army, militias and Congolese fighters led by rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. The fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands and rights groups have repeatedly accused all sides, including the ill-disciplined government army, of failing to rein in fighters who have targeted civilians suspected of supporting their rivals.

It is time to put a stop to this and to hold some people accountable.

The following is from AllAfrica. com.

Justice or Peace? War Victims Speak
By Suliman Baldo

In Africa's worst conflicts, victims' voices are rarely heard during the elite debate that treats peace and justice as though they were an either-or.

However, thousands of victims in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have told researchers for a newly-published survey that peace and justice must go hand in hand.

The survey of 3,753 Congolese is summarized in the report Living with Fear, which reveals the extent of suffering in a nation that over the past decade has suffered one of the deadliest wars since World War II. The survey was carried out by the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, the Payson Center at Tulane University, and the International Center for Transitional Justice.

Nearly half the population surveyed in eastern Congo said they had faced death threats, suffered beatings, or been enslaved by armed groups. One-third had been abducted and held captive for more than a week, and fully 80 percent had been forcibly displaced from their homes either permanently or temporarily during the conflict.

In spite of the horrors they have endured, an overwhelming majority expects the Congolese government to be able to deliver peace and security, and believes in a multi-faceted approach to these goals. When asked what means should be used to achieve peace, the Congolese offered an array of answers: arresting those responsible for crimes, dialogue between ethnic groups, dialogue with militias, establishing the truth, and military victory over armed groups.

In a sharp rebuke to those who portray peace and justice as mutually exclusive, 85 percent of those surveyed said it was important to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable for their actions. Eighty-two percent said that accountability for war crimes was a necessary step toward securing peace.

In a country with a desperately weak justice system, who should be holding perpetrators to account? More than half (51 percent) of the respondents said the Congolese national court system should be at the center of pursuing justice. At the same time, there was widespread recognition of the current weakness of the courts, leading 82 percent to say the international community should help in national prosecutions.

Though all of the suspects currently in the custody of the International Criminal Court (ICC) are Congolese, awareness of the institution among those polled was low. Just over a quarter of the populations of both eastern DRC and Kinshasa had heard about the ICC or its potential first trial, of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga.

Where the ICC is known, however, support is strong: 67 percent of those who had heard of the court said they would like to participate in its work, though only 12 percent said they knew how to access it.

The pursuit of justice through the ICC faces many obstacles, as was clear when the court stopped proceedings against Lubanga earlier this year, citing errors on the part of the prosecution. And when the ICC prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in June, the "peace versus justice" debate that followed showed that many continue to treat these goals as an either-or.

But if lasting progress is to be achieved in war-torn societies such as DRC and Sudan, victims' voices must be at the center of the debate, and their calls for both peace and justice must be heeded. Only then, with security and judicial reforms and the help of the international community, can the murderous culture of impunity finally be brought to an end.

Suliman Baldo is Africa Director for the International Center for Transitional Justice and one of the co-authors of Living with Fear.

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