Chris Blattman

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.

3 Responses

  1. I have done quite a bit of research on the deterrent theory (being an international lawyer my intuition was always that there would be some deterrence) but actually in cases of mass atrocity can find very little evidence that there is a deterrent effect. In fact in places like FRY the presence of an international court coincided with a higher incidence of atrocities. Interviewing perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, I also got no impression that future justice was anywhere in their minds, or would have deterred them if it was. As for the musings, I am very much inclined to agree!

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Chris and Ari. I tend to think that any process that happens within the DRC will be a farce. Too many powerful people have an incentive to NOT see justice done. Having an honest account of crimes committed would almost certainly implicate Kabila, Kagame, and Museveni, as well as a whole host of Congolese rebel-leaders-turned-politicians at both the local and national levels. This is why we’ve still yet to see charges filed against Laurent Nkunda, despite his guilt for very specific crimes being obvious and him having been in captivity for 22 months. He knows too much, and putting him on the stand would be disastrous for too many people. Trying to get justice for the Congolese on a larger scale seems pretty likely to be an exercise in futility.

    That said, I do think that one trick to combating the culture of impunity that’s developed among soldiers in the country is to start tracking down and prosecuting the rank-and-file. Sending Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC isn’t likely to have a deterrent effect among his men, but capturing them and trying them one by one is – not only for the CNDP/ex-CNDP crowd, but also for other armed groups in the region. Of course, doing so would be far more expensive and time-consuming than the likely ineffective “solution.”

  3. I posted this over at Congo Siasa, but figured I’d put it here as well since the quote about a lack of evidence appears here too. Hope you don’t mind:

    As I’m sure you know, some academics are working on studying the evidence question that Kate has raised to move us beyond conjecture. It’s a tough nut to crack, but there’s a piece by Kim and Sikkink that I talked a bit about last year:

    It has its methodological problems, to be sure, but it’s not the only one out there. There’s work by Payne, Olsen, and Reiter, as well my work being done by my colleague at Nebraska, Patrice McMahon (all of which, to my knowledge, is still forthcoming, though some might already be available online).

    The findings are something of a mixed bag. Payne, Olsen, and Reiter — I think — are going to challenge the efficacy of these transitional justice mechanisms; Kim and Sikkink argue that they’re having an effect. McMahon, in what I’ve read, wants to challenge what Kate argued about the ICTY and Serbia (though there are so many variables that I think it’s likely going to require a good deal of work to untangle things).

    But, anyhow, it’s a question that people *are* trying to address.

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