Lack of confidence in the legal system of
the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC,
has prompted a spate of vigilante justice,
provoking alarm among law enforcers.
Patrick Yav, a lawyer from the Centre for
Human Rights, a DRC-based non-governmental
organisation, reports a growing number
of incidents throughout the country
where members of the public mete out
summary justice on criminals caught
red-handed, rather than relying on the courts.
"Alleged criminals are often beaten up,
burnt, or killed with machetes," he said.
"They undergo cruel, inhumane and
Sometimes innocent people are killed
by the angry mob, because the evidence is wrong."
Such vigilante justice is a reflection of
the desperate state of
the country's increasingly
cash-strapped judicial system.
On June 30, Congolese president
Joseph Kabila broadcast a statement
on national television, calling for
a clean-up of corruption in the judiciary and
a restoration of public confidence in the system.
With typical incomes of less than
200 US dollars a month, judges frequently
turn to corruption to supplement
their meagre earnings, often handing
down verdicts on the basis of who
can pay the most, according
to Harriet Solloway, head of the
rule of law unit at the United Nations Mission in DRC.
Prison conditions in the DRC have also come
under fire recently,
with lax security blamed for regular
break-outs and human rights abuses
committed against inmates.
The High Council of the Magistracy was
set up in 2006 to guarantee the independence
of judges by taking disciplinary action
where necessary, but, lacking adequate
funding, it has so far failed
to meet expectations.
In 2004, with the courts paralysed through
a lack of money and corruption,
the government of DRC called in
the International Criminal Court,
ICC, to investigate alleged war crimes.
Yav says that mob justice is a worrying
trend that could further undermine
the country's creaking judicial system.
"Each person has an equal right for their case
to be heard in a fair and public way
by an independent and impartial court,"
"We must remember that each person
is presumed innocent until his guilt
has been legally established with
a public trial, with all necessary
guarantees for his defence."
At the beginning of July, in the town
of Katuba, some seven kilometres
outside Lubumbashi, a thief was heard
trying to enter a house in
the early hours of the morning.
The owner of the house called for help,
frightening the thief and
prompting a search of the area.
"The whole neighbourhood was searched,"
recalled the owner.
"We found two of the five thieves and
we attacked them.
Around 6 am, the police came
to collect the bodies of the criminals.
His actions highlight a widespread loss
of faith in the criminal justice system.
"Our justice is the best because
we know that when prison doors
are opened, one forgets to close them,"
"Prisoners who arrived there
in the morning go out peacefully
in the evening and commit more crimes."
"It is a case of legitimate self-defence,"
said Georgette Misenga, another resident.
"Often, thieves come in with firearms and
sometimes they kill people they find in the house.
When you feel insecure,
you have to defend yourself."
Another incident took place in Kenya,
a suburb of Lubumbashi in July.
Residents of the neighbourhood say
that at 1 am, a man was caught trying
to break into a house.
He was dragged out to the street where
he was set alight and suffered
an excruciating death.
One resident reports that the police
did not arrive in time to intervene
in the vigilante execution.
"Our police always come too late," he said.
"That's why the population took care
of the matter themselves."
For their part, the police are quick
to defend themselves against
allegations of ineffectiveness.
Colonel Jacques Ilunga, the provincial
police inspector, complains that the courts
are often too quick to release
criminal suspects on bail.
"We are doing everything to arrest criminals,"
he said. "But just a few days after
a man has been transferred to the prosecution,
he is released.
He comes to see us, ask how we are doing and
to collect his belt that he left at the police station.
All these criminals that we arrest must
end up in prison.
If they are released, they will just return to crime."
The inspector says that dealing
with mob justice is no different
from dealing with any other crime.
"In such cases, the police still does its job,"
he said. "This means arresting the perpetrators
of mob justice along with the thief."
Dieudonné Kanyama, the prosecutor
for Lubumbashi's district court, reserves
harsh words for perpetrators of mob justice,
saying that "no one has the right to render
their own justice" and that, if they do,
they risk being sentenced to death f
or the murder of another human being.
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