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Amb. Ileka Atoki Headshot

Justice for the Victims in Congo

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United Nations -- Today [October 1] the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a new report cataloging the atrocities committed in my country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, between 1993 and 2003. The report is detailed and credible, and we welcome its publication. It is also heartbreaking. The Congolese Government, and I personally, are appalled at the horrific nature and scope of crimes documented in this report that the people of the Congo have suffered.

Sadly, this information is not new to us. Millions of Congolese men, women and children have borne the brunt of the Congo's conflicts over the past 15 years. Far too many have died. Like nearly all Congolese, I too lost loved ones in the war.

The victims deserve justice and they deserve that their voices are heard by my government and by the international community. Far too often, Congolese voices go unheeded. I truly hope that this time it is going to be different. Like all Congolese people, I want to see justice for these crimes and I want to help rebuild our country on the basis of the rule of law. I can assure that the Congolese Government is firmly committed to that endeavor.

His Excellency President Joseph Kabila Kabange has repeatedly demonstrated through words and actions that he seeks truth and justice for the horrible crimes perpetrated against the Congolese population. In 2003, President Kabila addressed the UN General Assembly and requested that the UN establish an international criminal tribunal for the Congo to prosecute those responsible for the crimes. Our proposal was ignored. We repeatedly sought justice at the International Court of Justice, but that too had limited results since not all the countries whose armies fought on our soil accept its jurisdiction.

In 2000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo signed up to the International Criminal Court, and, in 2004 requested that the ICC's prosecutor begin investigations in our country because we were determined that justice must be done. The investigations continue but the ICC can only look at crimes committed since July 2002 and so many atrocities were perpetrated before that date, as the UN mapping report documents.

In May 2007, President Kabila approved the UN's mapping exercise when the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, and the head of MONUC, Ambassador William Lacy Swing, presented the proposal. In July 2008, a UN team arrived in the Congo to begin its work. The Congolese Government allowed the work to progress independently, without any interference, hoping this time it might lead to results.

The outcome of that exercise is the report published today, but the critical question is what happens next? We are determined that the Congolese Government will do what it can to bring justice for the crimes and some degree of reparations for the victims. Only a week ago 220 Congolese civil society groups requested us to act and those appeals have not fallen on deaf ears.

The UN mapping report sets out a number of options for judicial and non-judicial mechanisms that could be established. The mapping report favors the creation of a possible "mixed chamber" in our justice system with national and international judges and other experts. In the Congo, we do plan to carefully study this option amongst others. We are rebuilding our justice system following years of war, but we recognize that this will not be done overnight and that the victims of the horrific crimes deserve justice as soon as possible. In my personal view, a meeting should be convened in Kinshasha, our Capital, with legal experts and international donors to further discuss the options set out by the mapping report and to recommend a way forward.

Justice and peace should work together. In addition to seeking justice for the victims of the terrible crimes, we also seek to improve diplomatic and brotherly relations with all our neighboring countries for a lasting peace. This is a crucial pillar of my country's foreign policy.

As noted in the UN's report, bringing justice for the crimes committed in Congo is not something the Congolese government can act on alone. The perpetrators of these crimes are both Congolese and non-Congolese nationals, including those, African or not, who have profited from our mineral resources and helped to drive the war. We call on the international donors, including those who helped to fund the mapping report, to work closely with us to establish mechanisms that will take strong action against the perpetrators of this violence no matter where they reside and to help end impunity. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is ready to play its part. I sincerely hope that the international community is ready to play theirs.