Militias Decry Kivu Amnesty Law

Militias say power sharing and government protection also needed to secure peace.

Militias Decry Kivu Amnesty Law

Militias say power sharing and government protection also needed to secure peace.

A new amnesty law for combatants in the bloody eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, has a number of serious shortcomings and will not solve the long-term problems of the region, rights advocates say.

Some beneficiaries of the law also say it does not go far enough and without political power sharing and better security, the region could revert to war.

In early May, Congolese president Joseph Kabila signed a law forgiving combatants for war-connected violence in both North and South Kivu committed between June 2003 and May 7, 2009, when the law took effect. It excludes genocide and other international crimes against humanity and war crimes and is restricted to the Kivu provinces.

The law could encourage the culture of impunity already present in the region, said the International Center for Transitional Justice, ICTJ, an international non-governmental organisation, with offices in Kinshasa, capital of DRC.

“Considering the limits of Congolese justice and the culture of impunity, the new law risks functioning like a general amnesty for all crimes committed by any Congolese pretending to have acted in the framework of war and insurrection in the Kivus,” said an ICTJ statement.

In addition, Mirna Adjami, ICTJ chief of mission in Kinshasa, said the amnesty should have been accompanied by other measures.

“Societies that just came out of an armed conflict or authoritarian regimes are faced with massive human rights violations [that cannot be ignored],” she said.

“And in such cases, amnesty laws should be adopted along with other measures of transitional justice encouraging the search for truth, institutional reforms and reparations, in order to effectively promote peace and reconciliation.”

The new law is the latest attempt to bring about peace that has eluded the region despite a widely praised yet ineffective peace agreement signed in January 2008 in Goma, the eastern capital of North Kivu, by the government and more than 20 militia groups.

“We believe that this law is establishing the impunity of perpetrators of grave human rights violations,” said lawyer Nicole Mwaka, general director of Carrefour des femmes et des familles, an NGO working in DRC.

Rights activists in other parts of the country have complained about the geographical limits of the bill.

“I believe that a significant step was made with this amnesty … but unfortunately, it applied only to the east of the country,” said Angelo Mayambula, director of the Chain of Solidarity, a church group in the Bas-Congo province of western DRC.

The law should have been voted on in a national referendum, said Deogracias Vale, of Socipo, a civil society group in Oriental province of DRC. Otherwise, it leaves other troubled regions mired in “a permanent cycle of violence”, he said.

The area most in need of amnesty is the Ituri region of the Oriental province, said Jean-Pierre Ngabu, a member of parliament from Ituri.

“We wanted to see this law being extended to Ituri,” Ngabu said. “Crimes committed by the armed groups in Ituri are not different from the ones in Kivu, but Kivu militias have [received] special treatment by being granted amnesty.”

Ngabu said he feared that because of the law, militia leaders such as Bosco Ntaganda, who is currently in the Kivus but has been linked to crimes in the Ituri region and is wanted by the International Criminal Court, ICC, for war crimes, could go free.

“Bosco Ntaganda committed crimes in Ituri and is free in the North Kivu. He is even wanted by the ICC,” Ngabu said.

“But … because he is a North Kivu native”, he could be protected by the new law, he said. “If he were an Ituri native, the government might have already handed him over.”

By excluding the Ituri region from the amnesty law, the area’s community leaders have little to offer when asking armed groups to surrender, he said.

“We are short of arguments today to convince those other residual groups to drop their weapons and join the national army or civil life,” Ngabu said.

Despite being the beneficiaries of an amnesty, however, some Kivu militia leaders say it is not enough. They want a power-sharing arrangement and active protection of their villages by the national army.

Without that, the groups say that they may be forced to return to war.

“We are integrating our soldiers in the national army, but there are also political leaders who were leading those armies,” said Askofu Bikoyi Mukongo, political coordinator of Mai-Mai Kifufua, a former North Kivu armed group.

“We are requesting the government to integrate us into the management of the country,” Mukongo said, which he believed could be done without an election.

“Everybody who is working in the government was not elected. There are ministers, people who are working in the local, provincial and national public institutions without being elected by the people. We can also be integrated in the same way,” he said.

Even if power could be shared, the armed groups of Kivu would need to have the means to protect their villages, he said, because the Rwandan militia the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, FDLR, has been active since the start of year.

Some Mai-Mai soldiers have delayed their integration into the national army to protect their relatives, Mukongo said.

“As the governmental soldiers could not defend our people, we requested our men to come back to defend our villages. The situation is quiet now,” he said.

If the Mai-Mai are to demobilise, Mukongo said, the government must put a stop to the FDLR in the region. If nothing is done, he warned, the Mai-Mai will take matters into their own hands

“If the government does not end the attacks of FDLR, we will mobilise all the Mai-Mai all over the country … so that we can defend our villages,” Mukongo said.

Jacques Kahorha and Désiré-Israël Kazadi are IWPR-trained journalists.
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