DRC: mob justice becomes law of the land

Photo © Jacques Kahorha

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

degrading treatments.

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,"

said Yav.

"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,"

he said.

"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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             J-L K.
Procurement Consultant
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