The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) organised an international delegation of jurists to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in February 2009. The IBAHRI and ILAC are grateful to the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs for the financial support provided.
The IBAHRI and ILAC mission was aimed at conducting a needs assessment of the Congolese judicial system in order to assess where expertise can be most constructively applied – both geographically and thematically – to assist the reconstruction of the justice system.
The six-person delegation held meetings with government ministers, parliamentarians, civilian and military judges and prosecutors, representatives of the Congolese bar associations, police, academics, international donors, NGOs, advocates and Congolese citizens. Both ILAC and the IBAHRI wish to express their sincere gratitude for the hospitality and assistance given by all those they met and for the additional assistance generously provided by the United Nations Organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), and in particular its Rule of Law Unit.
The aim of the report is not to present a full-scale analysis of the situation in the justice sector of the DRC. Instead, the report aims to assess the key areas where expertise and assistance can be most helpful to assist in reforming the Congolese justice system, based on what is planned and what is already being done regarding the DRC’s judiciary.
Summary of recommendations
The IBAHRI and ILAC put forward recommendations at the central and regional levels.
At the central level:
- The IBAHRI and ILAC welcome the government’s efforts in support of broadening access
to justice and providing better access to legal institutions for the Congolese population, and encourage the government to give greater priority to the judiciary in the allocation of state resources. The judiciary should be provided with an adequate national budgetary allocation in order to ensure its effective functioning and the proper administration of justice.
- The development of stronger legislative processes, of a standardised court management system to regulate case flow administration, and of a system to recruit and train judicial support staff is essential to ensure a properly functioning judiciary.
- The IBAHRI and ILAC encourage the government to continue to engage the support of the international donor community to strengthen the operation of the judicial system and the independence of the judiciary.
- The government should continue its efforts to recruit and train more judges, but should further reinforce these efforts through securing salary payments to members of the judiciary and the magistracy in order to attract and retain suitably qualified members of the Congolese legal profession to the bench.
- The government should revive and provide sufficient resources to the already existing Inspection Judiciaire to serve as a national oversight mechanism to fight corruption and deal with disciplinary issues within the judiciary.
- The government should exercise better control over and improve access to legal aid by implementing, with sufficient funding, the bureaux de consultation gratuite provided for by the law and by providing greater support to the bars in organising legal aid offices.
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- The government and military officials must not interfere in civil or military prosecutions. The President and other high-ranking government and military officials must publicy reiterate the obligation of all branches of government, the military, and the constituent parts of the executive branch, in particular the police, prisons and other security forces, of the obligation to comply with court orders promptly.
- The government and military should combat the functional immunity granted to Lieutenants- General and Majors-General in the military justice system by abolishing the rule that prevents military judges to handle cases where the accused has a higher rank than the judge or by promoting the highest military judge to the rank of Lieutenant-General.
- The IBAHRI and ILAC encourage the introduction of Military Mobile Investigation Units to strengthen the capacity to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity.
- Efforts should be made to fight impunity, through support of the ICC’s work, domestic prosecutions and the implementation of other transitional justice mechanisms. Particular attention needs to be paid to ensuring justice for victims of sexual violence.
At the regional level:
- The IBAHRI and ILAC recommend the establishment of a judicial assistance programme for
the city of Kisangani for civil and military justice reform at a regional level. The IBAHRI and ILAC propose a holistic project, to be supported by ILAC, to provide assistance to the civil and military judiciary and to authorities as well as civil society and to strengthen the public’s trust in the judiciary at all levels. Components of the project should include: legal training; management training; creating a module law library to increase legal documentation and access; providing light rehabilitation and basic equipment of courts and courthouses; dispatching information tools and legal literacy to civil society and the general public; enhancing mobile court capacity; strengthening the bar and legal aid; and implementing court observation and monitoring programmes.
- The IBAHRI and ILAC encourage targeted support to bar associations, starting with the Lubumbashi bar, to improve and construct continuing legal education (CLE) programmes
for lawyers and to generally strengthen the capacity of the bars and their secretariats. Courses related to international criminal justice, human rights and gender justice, and training regarding constitutional issues would be of particular value. The IBAHRI could provide assistance to such activities.
This report, following on from the IBAHRI and ILAC mission, aims to serve as an assessment of where international expertise can be most constructively applied and implemented in order to contribute to the reformation of the DRC’s justice system.