Monday, January 28, 2008

Congo: peace without amnesty?

Just a couple of weeks after I designated the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the most underrecognized international crisis point of 2007 here, the Congolese government reached a peace agreement with some of the militias operating in Eastern Congo. Hopefully this agreement will lead to real disarmament, demobilization and conflict reduction in the DRC, where millions have died in the most deadly conflict since World War II. However, only a week later, the New York Times reports that a serious breach of the ceasefire has already occurred.
From an international law perspective, it’s interesting to note that an amnesty for war crimes and crimes against humanity was not part of the deal. It’s unclear where this leaves Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the CNDP militia, for whom the DRC issued an international arrest warrant several years ago. The latest report is that the DRC government has not renewed the arrest warrant and that Nkunda may be granted an amnesty. However, even if granted, it is doubtful that such an amnesty would be understood to extend to the International Criminal Court, which is investigating the situation in the DRC and will begin its first trial, the prosecution of a DRC militia leader, this year. At this point, skirmishes between the militias that are still at a face-off in the region seem to be a more determinative factor in the status of the peace agreement than any more remote fear of prosecution. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine that Nkunda will proceed with demobilizing his troops without an assurance that he will not end up facing charges when they no longer have his back.

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