Rwanda: Africa - Talk Peace, Deliver Justice

Residents of Rutshuru Territory flee their homes to seek safety in Goma, DR Congo (file photo).
opinion

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza says dialogue is needed to resolve the conflict blighting Africa's Great Lakes region.

In May, President Félix Tshisekedi declared a month of martial law in two conflict-ridden provinces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This raises the question of whether military solutions will ever bring peace to the region.

The security situation has deteriorated over the past 25 years since the First Congo War. Peace has been fragile and several ceasefire agreements ineffectual, as have the many military operations carried out jointly against armed insurgents by the DRC and neighbouring countries.

In fact the number of rebel fighters has increased, with foreign insurgents from neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes region joining their ranks.

Given the lack of military success the time may now be ripe to open talks at the state and regional levels to try and resolve the conflict.

A culture of impunity in some Great Lakes countries continues to be a problem. Previous attempts to end fighting in the region have given scant consideration to how perpetrators of grave violations of human rights can be brought to justice.

Moreover, an International Tribunal Court for Rwanda was established to prosecute those responsible for crimes committed in the 1994 genocide, yet the court has only judged crimes committed against Tutsi. The failure to prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law undermines attempts at ethnic reconciliation and jeopardizes any stability Rwanda has achieved.

Against that backdrop, not applying the law evenly and fairly in the region will encourage more armed rebels to claim they are fighting for the justice they never received.

An international criminal tribunal for the Democratic Republic of Congo must be endorsed. Elsewhere in the region, given the context of crimes committed in Rwanda, a model based on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, should be applied to bring about genuine reconciliation.

Other countries in the Great Lakes Region should be encouraged to establish appropriate mechanisms to give justice to those who have not yet received it.

Countries in the Great Lakes region must also be democratized. Democracy is more than simply holding elections. A true democracy is one in which minority voices are heard and respected, political opponents are not persecuted but allowed to operate freely and freedom of expression and the press are not suppressed but protected.

Great Lakes nations must be supported to establish good governance - a system that enables their people to fairly and fully participate in the political decisions that affect them.

Good governance can be achieved through two levels of dialogue.

First, incumbent governments from each member state should engage in cooperative, constructive and positive discussions with dissenting voices both within and outside the country.

The ultimate aim of this inter-state dialogue is to remove reasons for political opponents from any country in the region to carry out political activities outside their own country, with or without armed groups, or to form armed insurgencies against their government inside their country of origin.

Second, establishing a regional treaty would foster cohesion. The objective of such talks at the inter-regional dialogue would be to prevent any country in the region supporting armed insurgents against a neighbour.

Moreover, it would also aim to dissuade countries in the region from engaging in or facilitating any illicit trade of natural resources, especially from eastern DRC.

The need to pursue economic interests in the area has never been discussed during any negotiations held to bring about peace - yet it is a main cause of conflict in the Great Lakes region.

The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo must be the first beneficiaries of its resources. But for decades, local and foreign armed rebels as well as Great Lakes regional states and multinationals, have been pursuing their economic interests, particularly in eastern DRC, by means of survival of the fittest. The death toll and loss of developmental opportunities resulting from this conflict should be a catalyst to the introduction of a new and effective approach.

Bringing justice and implementing good governance across the Great Lakes region to end the conflict east of DRC does not require military operations. It demands countries in the region to engage in talks and to tackle internal issues of justice and governance within their own countries, which have been the underlying problem fuelling conflict in the area for a quarter of a century.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is Chair, Development and Liberty for All party in Rwanda

More From: Chatham House

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