Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

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 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join 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.

Column

Don't lead Europe by triggering its fears

For a long time, Europe's strategic chattering class has been wondering what would happen if you took the US out of Europe's security architecture.

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room

Over the years, both real and perceived levels of corruption in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia have remained high. The necessary reforms in those countries, to put it mildly, are not yet effectively carried out.

Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice

Beyond the Israel-specific dimension of this decision, the EU court places ethics back at the heart of European consumer choices and reminds us that our daily, mundane purchases may have considerable and unforeseen geopolitical implications, particularly as regards occupied territories.

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us