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Congo, The Democratic Republic of the: Rights Groups Decry New Amnesty Law

(Feb. 14, 2014) On February 4, 2014, the legislature of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) approved a new law giving amnesty for acts of war committed from 2006 to the present. It will come into effect once President Joseph Kabila signs it, something he is expected to do in the near future. The law has been controversial, with human rights groups, including those in the National Network of Congolese Human Rights Non-Government Organizations, opposing it. (Addison Morris, Rights Groups Oppose New DRC Amnesty Law, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Feb. 7, 2014).) United Nations officials, however, welcomed it as “the next step in bringing sustainable peace.” (New DR Congo Amnesty Law Welcomed by UN Envoys, UN NEWS CENTRE (Feb. 5, 2014).)

The new law extends amnestyforacts of insurgency, acts of war, and political offenses, but not for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. According to Martin Nesirky, a U.N. spokesman, the law “reflects the commitment of the Government to the Nairobi Declaration, which brought an end to the M23 rebellion.” (<?Id.)

The Nairobi Declaration was the finalization of an accord between the DRC government and the rebellious 23 March Movement (also known as the M23), a group that broke off from the national military in April 2013 in the latest chapter in years of unrest in the DRC. The agreement was concluded on December 12, 2013, and was signed in Nairobi, Kenya, by Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, and Joyce Banda, the President of Malawi and Chair of the Southern African Development Community. (Id.; Gashegu Muramira, Kenya: Congo, M23 Sign Peace Deal in Nairobi, ALL AFRICA.COM (Dec. 13, 2013).)

The groups concerned about the new DRC law state that it provides impunity for war crimes committed both by the DRC military and the rebels. (Morris, supra.) The advocacy group Human Rights Watch has described the M23 as committing a range of abuses.

These groups prey on civilian populations: killing, raping, extorting illegal taxes, forcing children to become soldiers, burning villages, and ill-treating those who resist them. Most have taken advantage of and manipulated existing ethnic tensions in an effort to gain control of land and mineral resources, including gold, tin ore, and coltan (widely used in electronic devices). (Ida Sawyer, Unbroken Violence in Congo, Human Rights Watch website (Nov. 25, 2013).)

Recently, in an open letter to Kabila, Human Rights Watch stated the case for not awarding amnesty to those who have committed crimes. The letter said, “[i]t is now crucial that steps are taken to ensure that these individuals are arrested and brought to justice in trials that meet international standards.” (DR Congo: Letter to President Joseph Kabila on Prosecuting M23 Leaders and Others for Serious Abuses, Human Rights Watch website (Jan. 29, 2014).) It went on to argue that “[p]rosecutions are necessary to ensure that those responsible for past crimes do not commit new offenses, and that the victims and their families—and Congolese society as a whole—see justice done.” (<?Id.)