DRC: Elimination of court fees – A major step forward for victims of serious crimes
In a ruling handed down on April 12, 2023, a Congolese court has, for the first time, exempted victims from the payment of an application fee which usually conditions their participation in the trial as civil parties. This decision, the first enforcement of a law passed in December 2022, represents a major step forward in improving access to justice for victims of mass crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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A NEW LAW ON THE PROTECTION AND REPARATION OF VICTIMS OF SERIOUS CRIMES
The law promulgated on December 26, 2022, on the protection and reparation of victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, has made it possible to abolish the application – as well as other court fees for these victims. This provision found its first concrete application in the judgment of April 12, 2023. It should be possible to invoke it in all future proceedings of this kind, thus eliminating one of the obstacles to victims’ access to justice.
Under Congolese criminal procedure rules, anyone wishing to take part in a criminal trial and thus have a chance of obtaining compensation for the crimes they have suffered must pay an initial fee to the court. This obligation is designed to discourage unfounded or abusive claims. However, victims of international crimes have often lost everything and find themselves in an extremely precarious financial situation. In most cases, it is simply impossible for them to mobilize these resources, which are essential if they are to participate in the trial and eventually obtain justice for the crimes they suffered.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE, A PRIORITY FOR THE CONGOLESE GOVERNMENT
Improving access to justice, particularly for the most disadvantaged, is one of the four priority objectives defined by the National Justice Reform Policy adopted by the Congolese government in 2017. In addition to a lack of information about their rights, the physical remoteness of jurisdictions and other structural dysfunctions of the Congolese justice system, victims encounter two financial obstacles when seeking justice: lawyers’ fees and procedural costs.
“By abolishing these procedural fees, the Kananga military court’s decision paves the way for many other victims of mass crimes in the DRC who remain in need of justice,” explains Daniele Perissi, TRIAL International’s Great Lakes Program Manager. “We hope that the Congolese government will ramp up its efforts to rapidly implement the other provisions of the December 2022 law, including the start of operations of the National Victims’ Reparations Fund.”
A NEW CONVICTION OF KAMUINA NSAPU MILITIAMEN
In its decision of April 12, 2013, the court found two new members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia led by Nsumbu Katende guilty of war crimes by murder, torture, hostage-taking, looting and destruction of property. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. The court awarded financial reparations ranging from $1,000 to $40,000 to the victims of these crimes who took part in the trial, represented by a collective of lawyers that TRIAL International supported.