ASF in the Democratic Republic of Congo
With a population of roughly 80,000,000, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the second-biggest country in Africa. Despite elections in 2006 and 2011, which were considered democratic by the international community, DRC is struggling to end the cycle of conflict. Insecurity persists in the east, where it has been maintained for more than ten years by different armed groups, which have committed serious and massive human rights violations. Fuelled by extractive activities, the illegal trade in natural resources, and endemic corruption, these conflicts have left the population in a permanent climate of instability, which has led to a serious humanitarian crisis. The conflicts and violence have spread to other provinces in the country, including Kasai Province, which has seen large-scale violence since mid-2016.
Since the end of 2016, DRC has been undergoing a new political crisis due to President Kabila remaining as head of state despite his second and final term coming to an end. Peaceful demonstrations demanding democratic change have been frequently and violently repressed by the police, the army, and the intelligence services, who carried out many arrests and kidnappings in a severe restriction of the people’s democratic freedoms.
This tense climate is made worse by a very unstable economic and social situation. DRC has been hit hard by the impact of the international economic crisis on the prices of primary materials, including mining and logging resources, the country’s main sources of economic development.
The condition of justice
Despite many efforts to address the issue, people still face major obstacles in terms of access to justice. The national conference on justice held in 2015 highlighted the many challenges of an institutional and structural, material, financial, and even sociological nature, which the national policy for justice reform adopted in May 2017 is intended to address.
Nonetheless, the budget allocated to justice is currently still far too limited, which means that the provision of justice is weak and dysfunctional. Considering the country’s immense size, geographic coverage is a key issue. Access to a lawyer, moreover, is not guaranteed. In the absence of a functional and subsidised legal aid system, the cost of a lawyer’s services is still unaffordable for most people. Moreover, most lawyers are based in big urban areas, so the majority of Congolese people have no access to their services.
Finally, there is a lack of knowledge among the people about their rights and the means of exercising them, especially in rural areas. They also express a growing mistrust of judicial institutions, due to the latent corruption of the people who work in them, the low rate of implementation of decisions, and the high economic and social cost of legal procedures. As a result, most citizens continue to turn to traditional authorities to resolve their conflicts.
ASF projects in DRC
In order to begin to provide relevant and sustainable solutions to the many challenges mentioned above, ASF is currently carrying out several projects focusing on three important themes:
Contributing to sustainable development objectives by strengthening access to justice
- Objective: the project aims to contribute to the creation, by all actors, working in a coordinated manner, of a sustainable framework for ensuring access to independent and quality justice for everybody, and thereby, to work towards strengthening the rule of law. More specifically, the program aims to support and promote the realization of people’s rights through their participation in effective conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms, thus promoting the rule of law and good governance.
- There is a need to re-establish a link between populations and justice, taking into account the practices/actions of actors and, indeed, supporting both formal justice and more innovative/pragmatic mechanisms, such as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) implemented by a number of actors at a local/community level.
- There are three dimensions to the project’s activities:
- Strengthening people’s participation in processes for preventing and resolving conflicts, by strengthening their power to act
- Strengthening formal and “alternative” justice mechanisms and actors to ensure that they are accessible, effective, and transparent
- Strengthening coordination and collaboration between the different actors and mechanisms operating in the sector, in order to ensure a holistic approach to protecting people’s rights
- Geographic areas of intervention: across DRC, with a particular focus on the city-province of Kinshasa, North-Kivu, and Kongo-Central
- Partners: Goma Bar Association, Matadi Bar Association, Commission Diocésaine Justice et Paix (Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, CDJP), and Dynamique des Femmes Juristes
- Funding: Belgian Development Cooperation
- Duration: 5 years (January 2017 > December 2021)
Protecting human rights and democratic freedoms during the election period in DR Congo
- Objective: to contribute to the effective realisation of human rights and democratic freedoms during the election period. The project is aimed at supporting human rights organisations, their members, and other civil society actors active in the promotion and protection of human rights, in order to build their capacity to act and to participate in debates about issues of public interest
- There are four complimentary dimensions to the activities:
- Informing people about their rights and responsibilities during the election period
- Legal and technical capacity-building for human rights organisations and their members
- The provision of legal protection services and direct protection to human rights organisations, their members, and other civil society actors when they are under threat and/or attack as a result of their activities, or when those activities are criminalised
- Strengthening the participation of those actors in debates about issues of public interest in order to develop and consolidate political and legislative frameworks that respect international standards
- Geographic area of intervention: across DRC
- Partners: United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, Carter Centre, and civil society organisations
- Funding and duration:
- UK aid – first phase: March 2016 > March 2017
- Embassy of Germany: April 2016 > December 2016
- Embassy of Belgium: December 2016 > January 2018
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office: July 2017 > March 2018
- Embassy of the Netherlands: November 2017 > October 2018
- UK aid – second phase: June 2018 > January 2019
Putting the interests of local populations at the centre of the management of natural resources: transparency, accountability, and protection of rights
- Objective: to contribute to the transparent management of natural resources in a way that respects human rights. The project supports the involvement and participation of affected populations in order to ensure the transparency of processes for managing natural resources, to combat corrupt practices, and to protect and make effective their rights in relation to the management of natural resources. More specifically, the project aims to support the involvement and participation of those concerned, in order to assure:
- transparency of natural resource management processes and the fight against corrupt practices and
- the protection and realisation of their rights within this framework.
- By empowering local people to act so that they are able to fully play their role in the natural resource management processes, and by accompanying them to ensure the protection of their rights, the project contributes to the development of essential conditions for inclusive, sustainable and human rights-based development
- There are three dimensions to the activities:
- Informing people about issues related to the proper local governance of natural resources
- Mobilising people to strengthen their participation in the proper local governance of natural resources and to compel their representatives to respect the principles of transparency and accountability and to act in the public interest
- Implementing and/or strengthening mechanisms for preventing and resolving conflicts, protecting the rights of local populations, and combatting corrupt practices
- Geographic areas of intervention: province of Kongo-Central and former Orientale province
- Partner: Ligue Congolaise pour la Lutte contre la Corruption
- Duration: 3 years (October 2018 > September 2021)
Protection of the rights and freedoms of spokespersons of the Congolese people
- ASF began implementing this project in November 2018, in continued efforts for the effective realisation of human rights and civil liberties in the DRC. The project pays particular attention to detainee rights and to judiciary procedures applicable to preventative detention
- Objective: to contribute to the protection and the effective realisation of human rights and civil liberties in the DRC. More specifically, the project supports Human Rights Defenders (HRD) and all citizens committed to the promotion and defence of human rights to strengthen their scope for action and participation in public debates.
- By fighting the massive phenomenon of illegal preventative detention and its use as a means to political and/or economic goals, the project contributes to the initiation of structural change, aiming to strengthen the rule of law in the DRC through the respect for the right to a fair trial and citizen participation in public interest debates.
- Partner: The Dutch Embassy
- Duration: 2 years (November 2018 > 2020)
Supporting the fight against impunity in the DRC
- Objective: to contribute to the efforts of the fight against impunity in the DRC through strengthening the access to justice for victims of international crimes
- To accomplish this, the project develops a systematic approach, supporting both the provision of justice (support to judicial actors in the prosecution of serious crimes) and the call for justice (assistance to victims through supporting lawyers, civil society organisations and journalists), while bridging the gap between the two
- The actions undertaken will make it possible to form an advocacy and capitalisation strategy for stakeholders in the justice sector who are involved in the prosecution of international crimes and the establishment of a coordinated and concerted response, for holistic victim assistance in the DRC.
- Partners: TRIAL International et RCN Justice & Démocratie
- Funding: European Union
- Duration: 3 years (2019 > 2022)