DRC: Mixed Court Overview

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a long history of violence, including war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. The judicial system has tried to effectively pursue trials for those responsible, which has been an ongoing challenge since 1990. In 2011 the Congolese government, along with help from U.N. officials, came up with a draft legislation proposing the implementation of a “mixed court” system to address these issues. A mixed court is comprised of international and local courts working together on Congolese soil to try those responsible for these crimes, which have occurred through 1990 to the present day. However, as of 2014 the system is not yet established and talks are still being held to discuss its creation and implementation into Congolese law.  

The mixed court legislation is taking so long to implement because no one has been able to fully blend international courts the domestic while creating a mainly Congolese law system. The first attempt occurred in April 2011 in Goma. Representatives from the Congo’s 11 provinces and international organizations adopted a Common Position on the initial draft legislation, where they suggested room for significant improvements. This Common Position had five main points:

1) “The specialized mixed court should have jurisdiction over past and present crimes committed in the DRC.”

2) “The specialized court’s ‘mixed’ nature [the integration of international staff] should be fully established and effective.”

3) “The interest of victims and witnesses of serious international crimes should be better taken into account in the establishment of the specialized mixed court.”

4) “The specialized mixed court should have primary but not exclusive jurisdiction over serious international crimes.”

5) “The rights of the accused as provided in the draft legislation should be strengthened.”

In October 2013, two years after the Common Position was created, President Joseph Kabila along with the cabinet Minister of Justice and Human Rights prepared a draft law supporting the creation of specialized chambers in the national justice system. This draft law specifies a variety of things. First, the mixed chambers will not be an international tribunal but will be embedded in the appeals courts of the Congolese national justice system. Second, mixed courts will only focus on prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and will receive the resources necessary to effectively try these crimes. President Kabila believes that the presence of international staff will be a good source of experience and training for local law officials, and will also serve as protection for the independence of Congolese chambers from potential political and military interference.

Other important elements to be included in the Specialized Mixed Courts are “a meaningful degree of mixed involvement of both Congolese and non-Congolese staff working within the chambers; jurisdiction over grave international crimes committed in Congo by civilians, members of armed groups, and military personnel of any nationality; a nomination process for chambers’ staff that will ensure independence; and final review of decisions by an independent specialized mixed appeals chamber.”

The process of implementing the courts is still being solidified. In a May 2014 briefing between officials of the DRC and U.S. governments, Special Envoy Russell D. Feingold stated “[the United States] has been very active in advising and working on this, and we think it’s outstanding that there’s a chance that this legislation providing for these mixed courts could pass in this current legislative session of the D.R.C. parliament. This would be important to making these examples where justice has to be done actually occur.” The implementation of the Specialized Court System is expected to be in place in the near future.

Written by Nicole Ransom, ART WORKS Projects Intern