Justice for the Congo?

A real Truth and Reconciliation Commission (not the farcical one we had during the transition) could educate people about happen and serve as a warning to officers not to re-offend. Above all, a serious crack-down on current abuses would send a strong signal, especially if commander are held responsible for the behavior of their soldiers.

That is Jason Stearns responding to Kate of Wronging Rights on the question of peace versus justice. From Kate:

If, like I do, you love peace, french fries, and justice, you may not know where to come down on this. The argument of the pro-trials folks (made recently by international justice A-lister Reed Brody here) is a viscerally compelling one; it makes a certain amount of intuitive sense that impunity breeds atrocity and that allowing war crimes to go unpunished will only result in more war crimes.

…Me, I like my theories backed up by a bit of evidence.

I’d be shocked if these justice processes don’t have a deterrent effect. For me, that’s not the point.

Some musings:

  • I don’t know that a place like the Congo is capable of having a TRC that isn’t farcical. The reason is the same reason that Congo has incessant fighting and mass rape: their institutions don’t work very well. Why would a TRC be any different?
  • Gaggles of foreign lawyers and hordes of bureaucrats might be able to make a Congo justice process work. Then again, the International Criminal Court has flubbed its first case (of a Congo warlord) so badly that a notorious criminal could walk.
  • Even if  the international community does better the second time round, is this where we want their energy consumed? Personally, I can’t stomach seeing women raped daily while a justice process creeps along. It comes down to what you think will stop the violence fastest: a TRC? Policing and force? Something else? I have no idea, but the wheels of justice do not turn fast enough for my satisfaction.
  • Finally, I’m suspicious of TRCs because they come in a box. Donors and rights advocates love this kind of project: they are discrete, show visible activity, have concrete outputs, and (to taxpayers at home) are synonymous with puppies, sugarplums, and Nelson Mandela. Thus they are implemented before other things for all the wrong reasons.

Alas, the Congolese are probably going to get a TRC whether they like it or not. Someone rich somewhere will pay for it. Like a hasty election or a vocational training program for ex-combatants, no post conflict package is complete without one. (Providing security is messier and not nearly so puppy-friendly.)

Attention everyone: please stand aside while the international knee jerks.