That Report – Will There Be a Tribunal?

The UN mapping report is due to be released tomorrow. It has claimed a lot of space in the news, with Rwanda and Uganda denouncing it firmly – Uganda has belatedly suggested that it might have to withdraw peacekeeping troops from Somalia, mimicking Rwanda’s move from a month ago (one would think their threats would have carried more weight if they had come at the same time). I have not seen the new version of the report yet (it is scheduled to come out tomorrow), but it appears to be roughly the same version as was leaked a month ago, although the allegations of genocide against Rwanda have been couched in more careful language.

So what will the result of all this be? Will there be a special court to try the crimes detailed in the report?

We mentioned previously here that six countries in the region (Congo, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Angola, Uganda and Burundi) were considering issuing a joint statement rejecting the report. Apparently that was a false alarm – the Rwandan government was pushing for this, and the Belgian foreign minister tried to pre-empt the move by mentioning this to the press. Fortunately, the Congolese government had never been on board with this initiative, which they rejected, prompting the Angolans to follow suit. Finally, it is only Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda who (I think) have officially condemned the report.

Kabila has been on the record on numerous occasions in the past pushing for an international tribunal for the Congo. It is telling that he has apparently now tasked his UN ambassador, Atoki Ileka, to draft an official response to the report. Amb. Ileka is known to be a strong supporter of an international tribunal, and he apparently likes the mapping report, as well. Human rights groups are trying to pursuade him that he shouldn’t ask for an international tribunal – which would be slow and expensive – but should instead accept the recommendation of the mapping report and endorse the special court, which would also be more respectful of Congolese sovereignty, as it would be under Congolese jurisdiction.

Several hurdles remain. First, and most obvious, Kabila is currently in the middle of a peace deal with the Rwandan government to stabilize the eastern Congo. He may not want to overturn the apple cart quite yet by opening the floodgates for indictments against Rwandan officers for crimes committed in the Congo, especially not before elections in 2011.

Secondly, it is unclear how the court can be both independent and under Congolese jurisdiction. It is a line that other courts – in Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone – have had to tread, with mixed success.