Dear ICC: A letter from a DRC-based activist
By Chantal Faida
“Dear ICC, we’re getting ready to vote and we need you,” says Chantal who is also a political aspirant in the upcoming national elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In accordance with the current constitution of the DRC, a new head of state must be elected in 2016. Soon, if all goes according to plan, voters will be called upon to choose a president who shall serve a term of five years. Yet, even with the disputed elections in 2006 and again in 2011, we still seem to be approaching a similarly murky situation in 2016. Undoubtedly, it will be a memorable year.
The beginning of 2015 already saw the electoral process being threatened. Between 19 and 21 January, while parliament was initiating a series of amendments to certain provisions of electoral legislation, a popular nationwide uprising took place. People who thought such manoeuvres were inappropriate poured onto the streets, protesting against what they claimed was a hidden-attempt to extend the rule of President Joseph Kabila.
Referred to as the ‘Three Glorious Days’, the uprising sought to have the general population census separated from the 2015-2016 electoral processes (Article 8 of the Elections Act made such a census a prerequisite for holding presidential elections). According to the opposition this piece of legislation would have meant the postponement of the 2016 elections. In the end, the protesters’ demands were met - the senate amended the census law and 2016 remained an election year, at least on paper.
Many observers, including myself, agree that elections organised in an allegedly democratic country such as the DRC, should not be a breeding ground for violence and other bloody conflicts. Only ink should flow – from the fingers of voting citizens. Power should come from ink not blood. That is my belief.
At present, following the National Independent Elections Commission’s delay in carrying out its revision of the voters’ list, an ‘ingenious’ initiative is underway - the national political dialogue. Launched by the current government, it aims to obtain a ‘national consensus’ on the organisation of credible, peaceful and transparent elections as soon as possible. The 2016 elections are supposed to be a shining light for the calm development of democracy in the DRC. Certain members of the Congolese elite are in favour of holding this dialogue; other participants in the political arena are abstaining, for reasons only known to themselves.
The deterrence role of the international justice community
I would like to point out here that, in the face of electoral disputes that could possibly turn violent, the international justice community is being called upon by some, like Uganda’s professor Mahamood Mamdani, to help preserve and promote political solutions, setting aside their pursuit of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes. I think that it is time to salvage this situation and avoid democratic backsliding. The history of the DRC shows that most armed movements were born, and have persisted, in certain areas in order to claim legitimacy for incumbent governments, especially when their rule is challenged through democratic processes.
The international community has already expressed its opinion. In a joint communiqué, the African Union (AU), United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) have recommended that the Congolese political class maintain a dialogue that pursues a favourable outcome for the electoral process. In other words, a dialogue that preserves peace and strengthens democracy. These are values particularly dear to the DRC, since for decades the country suffered from so many violent and infamous conflicts.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) could do much good. Not only by detaining, trying and condemning the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but also by tackling the root causes of these conflicts. I also believe that appropriate financial compensations, from the perpetrators, could help prevent misconduct in the future and potential victims would be spared long, inhumane and degrading ordeals.
Therefore, ICC: get involved and help us find a political solution that respects the DRC’s constitution.
As a signatory to the Rome Statue, the DRC has the right to legal assistance from the ICC not only during a post-crisis scenario, but also in the period preceding a crisis, possibly averting the said impasse.
I take issue with those who believe that God’s court is the best court – especially since we are still on Earth. We must instead turn to courts comprising of people who we can see and touch, and who examine cases to ensure that human rights reign supreme. Only in this way can we ensure the well-being for all.
Survivor of several armed conflicts,
Candidate for Provincial Parliament, Goma, DRC
Lead image: Peace keepers from Tanzania patrol Sake, North Kivu in the DRC (MONUSCO/Flickr)