The Hague, September 3, 2014 (FH) – Most people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo think the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no impact on either peace or justice, according to a survey by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

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The survey report, entitled “Searching for Lasting Peace”, says that 28% of the 5,166 adult respondents questioned in the Kivus and Ituri at the end of 2013 thought the ICC has a negative impact on peace. Only 20% thought it had a positive impact, while 52% were neutral.

This report on “perceptions and attitudes about peace, security and justice in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo” nevertheless stresses that “since beginning its operation, awareness about the work of the ICC in eastern DRC has increased”. In 2008, only 28% of people questioned had heard of the Court, compared with 52% in 2013. The report’s authors say that “more local engagement about the mandate and reality of the ICC” is still needed to “manage expectations”. They do not say specifically how this should be done. But the ICC has the possibility, which it has never used, to hold hearings near the victims and the sites of crimes committed.   Ten years of ICC investigationsThe report also hails the work of the ICC, saying that in 2012 it made “unprecedented progress” in handing down its first conviction and sentence on former militia leader Thomas Lubanga. The reports’ authors appear to have forgotten that the ICC has been frequently criticized for its slowness (it took six years to try Lubanga and the appeal is still pending), and the Prosecutor has been severely criticized by the judges for weak evidence. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and UNDP put the negative perception of the ICC -- and of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) -- down to the fact that their mandates are not well understood.

The ICC Prosecutor opened a first investigation in 2004 following a request from the Congolese government. In the last ten years, the Court has issued public arrest warrants against six individuals for crimes committed in the eastern DRC. They include Lubanga and Germain Katanga who were sentenced to 14 and 12 years’ imprisonment respectively, Sylvestre Mudacumura who is on the run, Mathieu Ngudjolo who was acquitted, Callixte Mbarushimana whose case was dropped and Bosco Ntaganda who surrendered himself to the Court in March 2013. Nearly four million people died as a result of the war between 1998 and 2004, according to the International Rescue Committee, and the number of people responsible for crimes is immeasurable. The ICC’s contribution to the fight against impunity therefore remains limited up to now. According to the report, despite the negative views of the justice system, nearly 90% of respondents said accountability was important and 92% said it was possible to have justice for the violence.

National justice system preferred “Most respondents were willing to forgive if it was the only way to achieve peace,” says the report, but given the choice, the majority said they would like to see those responsible for the violence punished (60%), put in jail (42%), facing trial in a tribunal (38%) or even killed (13% -- see Figure 48). Respondents most frequently said that the national court system was the most appropriate to achieve justice for war-related crimes (48%), compared to roughly one in four who identified military tribunals (28%) and the ICC (28%). This supports the position of various NGOs and governments, especially the US, that the national justice system should be strengthened to allow more trials on Congolese territory.

However, distrust of the national justice system is very real. According to the report, 75% of people in the eastern DRC think there must be a payment for the court to take a case, 54% say the system is corrupt, 41% that it does not exist and 35% that it is “justice of the rich” (see Figure 43). Only 17% think tribunal decisions are taken fairly (see Figure 42). In the last ten years there have been many initiatives by NGOs, governments and the European Union to try to reform the system, but progress is slow. The population put fighting corruption as the top priority to improve justice (59%), compared with training judges and lawyers (31%) and improving their pay (27% -- see Figure 44).

But rather than justice, people see dialogue between ethnic groups as the best way to bring lasting peace. Survey respondents put defeating the armed groups second, followed by establishing the truth about the conflict, arresting those responsible for the violence, providing jobs and reviving the economy, and having a dialogue with armed groups. “The wide range of responses likely reflects the fact that no single approach can achieve peace, but rather that a mix of approaches is needed,” say the researchers. For the Congolese, improvements are first in the hands of the government (73%), ahead of God (35%) and their own community (30%).

The report in English can be found at:http://www.peacebuildingdata.org