Monday

3rd Aug 2020

Opinion

EU should help end impunity of Congo war criminals

In the hills of South Kivu, eastern Congo, I recently met a group of adolescent girls and young women whose babies were born from rape, and who were struggling to cope.

Congolese soldiers had gang-raped them. A 16-year-old girl, holding her baby, said "I wanted to pursue these soldiers in court but then learned they'd been transferred."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

A 15-year-old girl who had just had a baby boy the previous day said: "My parents spoke to an [army] commander and he said that his soldiers do not rape, and that I am lying." Another girl told me she wanted to commit suicide. The girls' parents were either dead or had rejected their daughters.

The tragedy of Congo's women and girls has slowly emerged in recent years. Tens of thousands have been raped or otherwise assaulted by army soldiers, rebels, or other men. Sexual violence has been used to terrorise civilians by all warring parties.

The European Union and other donors have started programs of assistance for the victims that have made a real difference to the lives of some - unfortunately not all - Congolese women and girls. Beyond immediate medical and social assistance, the European Union in Congo also runs programs for military and judicial reform called EUSEC and REJUSCO.

Achieving shockingly little

But so far, donors have achieved shockingly little in their fight to end sexual violence. Recent figures indicate that rapes are on the rise.

The army has received extensive training on civilian protection from foreign military experts, including Belgium, yet it continues to be one of the main perpetrators of sexual violence.

While a few prosecutions of ordinary soldiers have taken place, commanders are still treated as untouchable and are almost never investigated for their responsibility for the acts of their soldiers.

For the victims I met in the hills, justice seemed light years away. As one Congolese lawyer put it: "A commander does not want to co-operate with the military justice system. It is a reflex."

Currently, the European Union is deciding on a new mandate for its security sector reform program (EUSEC) in Congo. EUSEC has helped to reduce corruption in the Congolese army by ensuring that many of the soldiers receive their salaries. Such efforts are crucial, but more change is urgently needed.

EUSEC should help improve army accountability for serious crimes, such as crimes of sexual violence. The army needs a clear chain of command, a vetting mechanism that removes high-ranking military officers responsible for serious human rights abuses, and functioning military courts.

Zero tolerance for rape

Reform can succeed only if those who commit or condone sexual crimes and other human rights abuses are prosecuted.

Army reform alone will not end Congo's cycle of impunity, which allows promotions rather than punishment for those who commit war crimes, including sexual violence.

To help establish the rule of law, the EU should support and fund a mechanism to try those most responsible for the crimes suffered by the Congolese people, such as a separate chamber on war crimes in Congo's courts, with the involvement of international judges and prosecutors. President Joseph Kabila has himself called for such a mechanism.

The EU should also require investigation and prosecution of senior army officers for crimes, such as rape, as a key benchmark for its continued funding of army reform.

On July 5, in response to concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch and others about the abusive behavior of government soldiers, the Congolese army responded by proclaiming a policy of "zero tolerance" for rape and other human rights crimes.

This is a welcome step; now the army, with the support of Europe, should put this principle into practice.

Juliane Kippenberg is a researcher with Human Rights Watch

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

The three 'Elephants in Room' in EU-India relations

A revamping of Indian and EU strategic priorities - coupled with wariness of Chinese expansionism in the absence of American leadership - is pushing them both to seek like-minded partners elsewhere.

Why is building renovation 'Cinderella' of EU Green Deal?

The renovation of old buildings will be crucial to the success of the European Green Deal and a clean, robust economic recovery. Unless there is serious commitment from policymakers, we risk the Green Deal turning into a pumpkin.

Migrant healthcare must not be forgotten during Covid-19

Previous claims that migrants bring communicable diseases to host countries have been debunked by a review of the existing evidence carried out earlier this year. In fact, migrants are currently more at risk of contracting Covid-19 from Europeans.

News in Brief

  1. France imposes new Covid-19 tests on visitors
  2. Brussels closes all mosques for Eid festival
  3. Amsterdam and Rotterdam tighten face mask measures
  4. UK tightens lockdown measures in north England
  5. EU banking watchdog warning on 26 banks
  6. 60,000 rally in Minsk ahead of Belarus election
  7. 'Better Regulation' is key for EU policy-making, auditors say
  8. Polish tribunal to examine EU gender-violence treaty

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. EU mishandling corona-travel, Belgian expert says
  2. France wants rule-of-law sanctions on recovery budget
  3. The three 'Elephants in Room' in EU-India relations
  4. First use of new EU sanctions against Russia, China hackers
  5. Six 'LGBTI-free' Polish cities left out of EU funding
  6. EU's new Security Union Strategy is a good first step
  7. US 'cavalry' leaving Germany to go back home
  8. Why is building renovation 'Cinderella' of EU Green Deal?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us