On 21st February, a team from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) met with representatives of the International Criminal Court Office in The Hague. The meeting was a follow up to the publication of a FIDH report in which they describe “a deliberate strategy of terror and destruction, which led to crimes against humanity”, adding to the steady accretion of evidence on the serious human rights violations happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly in the territory of Kamonia, Kasai province.
The FIDH delegation pressed the Office of the Prosecutor to continue monitoring the situation in the DRC and “to consider opening a specific investigation, while respecting the principle of complementarity”. Paul Nsapu, President of the Congolese NGO League of Electors and the Secretary-General of the African branch of FIDH, was at the meeting. Nsapu has been vocal about the human rights situation in the DRC and recently led a march to the ICC’s doorstep, to plead for the Court’s urgent intervention in his home country.
In this interview, as part of our #MyJustice series, Nsapu explains what local human rights activists expect from the ICC in response to continued human rights violations.
Justice Hub: Why are you in The Hague?
We are here because of the difficult situation across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We are here to plead for the people of the DRC who are today confronted with a very, very serious human rights situation. Crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations have, we consider, been committed. And these crimes are within the ICC’s jurisdiction under the Rome Statute.
Everyone knows the situation in the DRC is currently dominated by conflict. It is a generalized crisis of institutions with a head of state who has not organised elections and clings to his position. The government has become illegal, almost illegitimate and this has given rise to impunity.
We are here to demand that the International Criminal Court get involved and green light investigations and prosecutions since there is a possibility that the ICC can establish who bears responsibility for all the crimes that have been committed.
Crimes which have been committed in the province of Kasai, have been documented by FIDH. We’ve presented everything we have collected to the ICC to urge strongly for its intervention in the DRC without any further delay.
Justice Hub: Why not ask the local authorities to deal with these crimes?
Local justice is very weak in the DRC. And the degree of criminality, as well as the level of impunity, is overwhelming all the records. Impunity is assured to state agents, the security services and the defence services to commit abuses. They commit crimes without the perpetrators of these crimes being prosecuted. Total impunity.
Look for example what happened on December 31st last year at the protests organised by the civil society and the Catholic church in Kinshasa. The peaceful protestors who marched only with bibles were attacked. The march was suppressed bloodily leading to the deaths of at least two people.
Such events show that the state is using disproportionate means to repress the people.
Justice Hub: The prosecutor has said she is watching the issues especially in Kasai. Isn’t that enough for you?
The ICC prosecutor said in March 2017 that she is observing what’s happening in the DRC. This is not enough for human rights advocates. Since she made this statement there has been a lot of other activities in terms of serious human rights violations. For example, in Kasai where we investigated no less than 3,500 people were summarily executed in killings ordered by the security forces.
These are occasions for which the ICC really must speak and must result in cases. The ICC must seize the case to be able to deter others who do not know that these are serious violations of human rights.
Justice Hub: But it can be said that the ICC so far is dominated by cases from the DRC. There are a lot of critics who do not think that the ICC is the best body to intervene in this situation.
But for lack of any better options, we must resort to ICC since, as I have told you, the Congolese justice system is weak and taken hostage by the regime.
The security situation in the DRC doesn’t just affect the country but also has implications in the sub-region. People have been fleeing the violence in many directions. The refugee situation is currently a problem that is being resolved by the international community through the United Nations. Because there is a judicial institution at the international level like the ICC we must advocate on behalf of those whose human rights have been seized.
Obviously, as the prosecutor said in March statement, the ICC is following the situation carefully. But we know that she also made a statement to diplomats in October 2017 about her priorities. And we’ve come here to see why she presented a choice of activities and why we do not find the DRC there as a current concern of the International Criminal Court.