Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: The Need for Peace and Justice

Integration of ex-militia leaders into armed forces aimed at strengthening peace, but there's no peace without justice.
Three former Congolese militia leaders from Ituri have joined the ranks of the Congolese army. Peter Karim of the Nationalist and Integrationist Front, FNI, Cobra Matata Wanaloki of the Patriotic Forces for the Resistance in Ituri, FRPI, and Mathieu Ngudjolo of the Congolese Revolutionary Movement, MRC, last month flew to Kinshasa to begin their army training.

Karim, Matata and Ngudjolo led the last three armed groups still active in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri region. Officials from the United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo, known by its acronym MONUC, said the arrival of the trio in the capital along with several of their top commanders marked “a big step towards the consolidation of peace” in a district marked by violence for more than eight years.

But some in the Congo are concerned that men whose militia groups have been accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity are being integrated into the national army, the FARDC.

The question worth asking then is whether this will promote peace in Ituri or is a reward for crimes committed when justice would be a more appropriate solution?

Ituri’s armed groups have committed grave crimes in the region and two militia leaders are currently facing trial before the International Criminal Court, ICC.

Karim commanded the FNI which was blamed for the murder of nine UN Pakistani peacekeepers in 2005 under previous commander Floribert Ndjabu. Karim was in charge when a Nepalese peacekeeper died and seven others were taken hostage during fighting with the FNI in May 2006.

Ngudjolo is a former FNI member who now heads the MRC, which claimed thousands of fighters in Ituri, in an ethnic conflict between members of the Lendu and Hema communities that erupted out of the Congo-wide 1998-2003 conflict.

Matata, meanwhile, took over from ICC indictee Germain Katanga as head of the FRPI when Katanga was arrested in the Congo for his alleged role in the murder of the Pakistani peacekeepers. Human rights groups say the FRPI continued to commit grave violations of human rights including the unlawful arrest and torture of local officials, some of whom were executed.

Crimes committed during the Ituri war were excluded from a presidential decree granting an amnesty for acts of war and political offences committed during the 1998-2003 conflict. The amnesty also quite rightly excluded war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

However, with the arrival of Karim and the others in Kinshasa, the government has discussed expanding the amnesty to include Ituri.

The amnesty should not be extended to crimes committed more recently in the east as these are international crimes, and there is no amnesty for crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Rome Statute. The amnesty law explicitly excluded international crimes and, in addition, it cannot have any effect on crimes committed after it was created in 2003.

There has also been talk of granting an amnesty to renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda, who is currently battling the army in the eastern North Kivu province.

Nkunda is a former senior officer of the RCD-Goma, supported by Rwanda, one of the main rebel groups that fought in the Congo during the 1998-2003 conflict. He currently heads a rebel army of thousands of fighters and claims to be protecting the rights of Congolese Tutsis.

The Congolese government in September 2005 issued an international arrest warrant for Nkunda relating to acts of torture and rape allegedly committed by his soldiers in Bukavu in 2004 and in Kisangani in 2002. That warrant was never enforced, however.

The ICC said recently it is looking into crimes committed by all the warring parties in North Kivu, including Nkunda’s troops. They include acts of sexual violence, forced displacements and killings, charges which Nkunda denies.

It is doubtful the Congolese government will be able to negotiate an amnesty for Nkunda, and if it does, the ICC will not be bound by this agreement if it decides to prosecute Nkunda for the grave crimes allegedly committed in the Congo.

The current conflict in North Kivu was born of the failure to integrate Nkunda and his troops into the national army.

A deal was reached in early 2007 to mix Nkunda loyalists with Congolese army troops in North Kivu which would be deployed locally rather than elsewhere in the country. This arrangement gave birth to five brigades formed by the soldiers loyal to Nkunda and some from the FARDC.

But the arrangement collapsed within months, with Human Rights Watch reporting Nkunda’s troops soon rejoined their former leader, who had used the integration process to increase his military strength and political clout.

Proposals to end the conflict in North Kivu include exile for Nkunda or another attempt to integrate him into the national army – like Karim, Matata and Ngudjolo. Nkunda, however, has in the past rejected exile saying he prefers to stay in his home district of Masisi where he fears nothing.

That some former rebels have been taken to The Hague while others are wooed with positions in the army has caused much controversy in the Congo.

As already stated, MONUC welcomed the arrival in Kinshasa of the three militia leaders of Ituri as a “great step towards the consolidation of peace in this district”. For some observers and human right associations, however, this integration and the appointment to posts of responsibility are a reward for crimes committed.

But this is a difficult issue as it brings us back to the dilemma between peace and justice - a dilemma that has provoked many column inches in the DRC and is relevant today in countries like Uganda.

Should we prosecute or forget? Are peace and justice compatible? If not, which one prevails over the other?

Will the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of serious crimes that are today holding high posts in the national army be a hindrance to the already fragile peace process in Ituri? Or, is forgiving terrible acts committed by ex-militia leaders in the name of peace a grave insult to the memory of victims?

We must keep in mind that there is no real peace without justice and no justice without truth. Peace and justice should be considered as complementary objectives and not contradictory ones.

Men like Karim, Matata, Ngudjolo and so many others should be held accountable before national or international justice. If President Joseph Kabila is serious regarding his promises concerning justice, he should not have accepted the appointment of suspected war criminals into the highest posts within the army and should bring his own soldiers accused of such crimes to justice.

The Congolese’s people’s blood should not be considered as a stepping stone to achieve power. It is important to go from a culture of impunity to a culture of accountability.

Eugène Bakama Bope is the president of the organisation Friends of Law in the Congo.

More IWPR's Global Voices