By Elvis Katsana
Ituri is one of the provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has been most affected by the crimes under the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction. As a result, in 2013, 13 projects were launched in the province to assist the victims and the survivors of the war in eastern Congo. The funds are given to local non-governmental organisations to finance projects deemed useful for the victims. The beneficiaries say they would prefer that the funds be given directly to them.
Local civil society is asking for greater accountability. According Jean Bosco Lalo, the coordinator of civil society in Ituri Province, “we’ve been told about the money that the Trust Fund is disbursing, but since the operation began, we haven’t received a single report by the Fund or its partners. Often times, when NGOs receive funds, they become like a club of friends.”
Some victims want cash payments
According to Paul Madidi, the ICC’s spokesperson in DRC, “we cannot give cash in one go to people. The ICC and the Trust Fund for Victims don’t have enough money. Our budget is limited.” He says that the projects being run by local organisations, which are very familiar with the beneficiaries, have a major impact on the local people. At present, there are five projects in eastern DRC, mainly for psych-social support and socio-economic reintegration.
Fifi comes from Dungu. Last year, she received one session of psychological support for her war traumas. “The session helped me a bit because I thought there was no hope for me. But I need money now. More sessions wouldn’t help much because I have real problems in my life.” Other people in the community who claim to alsoe be victims have been rejected because they don’t meet the criteria. There are also many people who are unaware that the Fund even exists.
When a journalist tries to get information about the Fund and runs into endless hierarchical problems, there’s reason be worried. Kasereka, who’s 29 and lives in Djugu, doesn’t know how to get access to money from the Fund. He says he’s a ‘victim’ because of a lack of information. According to Kasareka, “we need to be made aware of our rights to this money because it’s for us.”
For Freddy Upar, a journalist at Revalation Channel Radio in Bunia, which is quite popular in this region, “often on the radio we don’t talk enough about the Trust Fund because there is little information available”.
To get information about the Fund, you first need to get the authorisation of the ICC in The Hague, according to a local Trust Fund representative in Bunia, who said he was not in a position to speak on behalf of the Fund.
Mrs. Béatrice is the coordinator of the Association des mamans anti-Bwaki (AMAB), which runs a psychosocial support project for rape victims in Bunia and eight neighbouring villages. It has a budget of 881,370 euros. AMAB is willing to provide information, saying it’s important to communicate. But she adds, “I would like to answer questions, but I have to get approval from the donors to provide more information about our project”.
According to a report released in 2014 by the Trust Fund, COOPI Cooperazione Internazionale, an international NGO in Bunia gave 6000 dollars to a parent’s committee so they could set up an income-generating project. But the money had been misappropriated, according to the report
Jean Bosco, the civil society representative, says this is common practice in the DRC and is known as ‘operation return’. He explains: “as you know, in all donor projects for victims, 100% of the funds are supposed to go to the community, but in practice they only get 10% to 30%, and the rest goes back to the donor”. ‘Operation return’ is a system of corruption in NGOs and institutions which consists in giving back part of the funds to the person who lobbied for the funds on your behalf.
Justice Hub contacted the Trust Fund about the allegations. The statements above associate the Trust Fund for Victims tangentially with corruption allegations and so are smearing the TFV’s reputation, says executive director Pieter de Baan, who denies poor communication. “The TFV publishes regular reports are distributed amongst communities in Ituri which should not have gone unnoticed.”
According to de Baan, “the TFV does not dispute there were irregularities with the use of resources by a parents’ association in the COOPI project and indeed reported on this as quoted, including a reference that the abuse by the parent’s association was reported to the judicial authorities. Our objection was not so much to the facts as well as to the related allegation in the article that this incident qualifies as an example of ‘operation return’, thereby indirectly implicating the TFV in corruption.”
Lead image: Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo Elvis Katsana/Justice Hub)