State Responsibility and the Right to Personal Security in the drc: A Human Rights Law Perspective

in African Journal of Legal Studies

The right to personal security has been grossly violated in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for nearly two decades by persistent armed conflicts. Ensuring this right through justice in such a complex context is particularly challenging but feasible. This paper examines whether the drc should be judicially held accountable for violations of the right to personal security. Drawing on case-law, international practice and literature in the field of human rights, the paper demonstrates that under the doctrine of State responsibility the drc has the duty to exercise due diligence in protecting its inhabitants through legislation, precautionary measures and prosecution. It also explains, however, that the drc’s responsibility may not be established under certain mitigating circumstances and factors, such as loss of part of territorial control, the necessity of granting amnesty to some perpetrators of human rights violations and the difficulty of judicially determining the minimum core of the right to personal security. The paper concludes that the possibility of judicially holding the drc accountable for failure to respect its international human rights obligations has been demonstrated and recommends that to be capitalised by competent jurisdictions in order to improve the situation of the right to personal security on the ground.

Abstract

The right to personal security has been grossly violated in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for nearly two decades by persistent armed conflicts. Ensuring this right through justice in such a complex context is particularly challenging but feasible. This paper examines whether the drc should be judicially held accountable for violations of the right to personal security. Drawing on case-law, international practice and literature in the field of human rights, the paper demonstrates that under the doctrine of State responsibility the drc has the duty to exercise due diligence in protecting its inhabitants through legislation, precautionary measures and prosecution. It also explains, however, that the drc’s responsibility may not be established under certain mitigating circumstances and factors, such as loss of part of territorial control, the necessity of granting amnesty to some perpetrators of human rights violations and the difficulty of judicially determining the minimum core of the right to personal security. The paper concludes that the possibility of judicially holding the drc accountable for failure to respect its international human rights obligations has been demonstrated and recommends that to be capitalised by competent jurisdictions in order to improve the situation of the right to personal security on the ground.

* E-mail: gentilkas@gmail.com. Gentil Kasongo Safari is a jurist and independent consultant, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He graduated from the law faculty of the University of Goma in 2007. He holds a Master of Laws specialising in Human Rights Law from the University of Cape Town (Class of 2012).

1 Introduction

Security is a complex concept. It is differently defined depending on the referent concerned. This paper deals particularly with personal security that can be simply defined as freedom from physical violence of any kind. Accordingly, the right to personal security is a right that enjoins the State not to interfere with its enjoyment, and obliges the State to protect against such interference by third parties. This right is guaranteed under the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Constitution and under international human rights instruments to which it is party.1

Due to persisting armed conflicts in the eastern part of the drc, for nearly two decades, the right to personal security has been grossly violated in a complex context. Ensuring this right through justice is particularly challenging but feasible. Then the question is whether the drc should be held accountable for violations of the right to personal security of its inhabitants.

This paper explores prospects of judicially holding the State accountable for violations of the right to personal security and situations where that would be difficult for plausible reasons. To this end, particular attention will be paid to the doctrine of State Responsibility, the situation of loss of government control, and the minimum core standard, by examining case-law, international practice and literature in the field of human rights.

2 Doctrine of State Responsibility

The doctrine of State Responsibility is a principle of international law that is applicable to human rights law as well.2 The doctrine of State Responsibility ‘holds a State accountable for breaches of international obligations committed by or attributable to the State’.3 Such international obligations derive both from customary international law and international human rights treaties.

The primary instrument dealing specifically with the doctrine of State responsibility is the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on State Responsibility.4 According to Draft Article 3, “there is an internationally wrongful act of a State when: (a) conduct consisting of an action or omission is attributable to the State under international law; and (b) that conduct constitutes a breach of an international obligation of the State.” Draft Article 11(1) specifies that “the conduct of a person or a group of persons not acting on behalf of the State shall not be considered as an act of the State under international law.”

The military courts and tribunals in the drc seem to have implicitly considered the principle enunciated in the above articles in that, the only time the State has been found guilty of violations is in solidum with its convicted agents (soldiers belonging to the national army) or militias that it supported and used against the rebels during the war. However, international law has recognised some legal principles that attach legal responsibility to a State for acts or omissions of private actors “not apparently acting on behalf of a State.”5 Among these principles a particular mention can be made of the exercise of due diligence.

2.1 Due Diligence

According to Liesbeth Zegveld, “International practice demonstrates that the State is only responsible for harm caused by armed opposition groups [non-State actors] when it has failed to exercise due diligence.”6 By exercising due diligence the State must “undertake appropriate measures to prevent and repress the injurious acts” of its own agents and those of non-State actors.7

In Velásquez Rodríguez v Honduras,8 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had to determine whether the State in question had violated Articles 4 (the right to life), 5 (the right to humane treatment) and 7 (the right to personal liberty) of the American Convention on Human Rights and to rule that the consequences of the situation that constituted the breach of such right or freedom be remedied and that fair compensation be paid to the injured party or parties. Velásquez Rodríguez was a student at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Allegedly, he was violently detained and subjected to torture without a warrant for his arrest by members of the National Office of Investigations (dni) and G-2 of the Armed Forces of Honduras, for political reasons.

The Inter-American Court held:

[T]he State has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations and to use the means at its disposal to carry out a serious investigation of violations committed within its jurisdiction, to identify those responsible, to impose the appropriate punishment and to ensure the victim adequate compensation.9

It also noted:

[T]his duty to prevent includes all those means of a legal, political, administrative and cultural nature that promote the protection of human rights and ensure that any violations are considered and treated as illegal acts, which, as such, may lead to the punishment of those responsible and the obligation to indemnify the victims for damages. It is not possible to make a detailed list of all such measures, since they vary with the law and the conditions of each State Party. Of course, while the State is obligated to prevent human rights abuses, the existence of a particular violation does not, in itself, prove the failure to take preventive measures. On the other hand, subjecting a person to official, repressive bodies that practice torture and assassination with impunity is itself a breach of the duty to prevent violations of the rights to life and physical integrity of the person, even if that particular person is not tortured or assassinated, or if those facts cannot be proven in a concrete case.10

Thus, it appears that, ‘Where the State takes reasonable measures to prevent and react to violations of human rights, the State will not be held responsible even when the outcome of those efforts is unsatisfactory.’11 However, in the Velásquez case, the Inter-American Court ruled that the procedures put in place in Honduras, albeit theoretically adequate, were ineffective to carry out the necessary investigations, punish the violators and provide remedies to victims.12

Concerning the situation in the drc, various reports by the un Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and other national and international ngos point out serious flaws in procedures to prevent, repress and redress human rights violations in the country, and the right to personal security in particular. Some of these flaws will be highlighted below.

In effect, exercising due diligence requires the State to take positive steps to prevent the violations, investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of human rights violations, and provide effective remedies to victims.13 Based on the jurisprudence of both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, Chirwa contends that due diligence is “essentially about the reasonableness or seriousness of the measures and steps taken by the State.”14 As state can be discharged of this duty to exercise due diligence through legislation, physical protection, and prosecution.15

2.1.1 The Duty to Protect through Legislation

A survey of case-law and international practice shows that the State is obliged to put in place a legal framework whereby prevention and repression of human rights violations can be made possible.16 In Velásquez, the Inter-American Court held: “[t]he obligation to ensure the free and full exercise of human rights is not fulfilled by the existence of a legal system designed to make it possible to comply with this obligation. It also requires the government to conduct itself to effectively ensure the free and full exercise of human rights.”17 This implies that the fact of having an appropriate legal framework is one of the ways for a State to comply with its human rights obligations.

In X and Y v The Netherlands18 the European Court found The Netherlands’ law ineffective to protect the private and family life guaranteed under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The complainants accused The Netherlands of violating its obligation to respect private life through the lack of criminal evidence provisions within its legal framework enabling the prosecution of an alleged rapist when testimony of the mentally disabled victim was the sole evidence.19

While acknowledging that Article 8 is primarily concerned with protecting individuals from State interference, the European Court also observed: ‘There may be positive obligations inherent in an effective respect for private or family life. These obligations may involve the adoption of measures designed to secure respect for private life even in the sphere of the relations of individuals between themselves.’20

Also, while recognising that the means to comply with Article 8 are left to the discretion of the contracting State, the European Court noted that prevailing civil law remedies were insufficient in this case. To achieve effective deterrence, which is crucial because the offense affected important values and essential aspects of private life and physical integrity, the Court took the view that the State should introduce appropriate criminal law provisions in its legal framework.21 The lack of such provisions led the Court to find the Netherlands guilty of violating Article 8.

These cases show that in order to comply with its human rights obligations the State must, among other things, adopt necessary legislation. Thus, failure to do so can give rise to State responsibility.22 While the drc may be commended for having put in place quite recently a legal framework to combat sexual violence,23 inter alia, there are still gaps and serious flaws in its existing legal framework which can amount to violations of a number of its international human rights obligations.

One of the major flaws in the existing legal framework in the drc is the fact that military courts and tribunals have legal exclusivity to deal with crimes against humanity and crimes of war and any other crimes committed by civilians using weapons of war. It has been demonstrated that such a context jeopardises potential efforts to repress violations of the right to personal security given the prevailing political, military and social situation in the drc.24

Another flaw, which is corollary to the exclusive jurisdiction of the military justice over the above-mentioned crimes, is the fact that victims of violations of the right to personal security – particularly victims of rape – perpetrated by members of the army and civilians using weapons of war, cannot legally use the procedure of ‘citation directe25 (direct citation) in military courts and tribunals for their claim of reparation.

It must be noted, nevertheless, that a step towards removing such flaws has been taken by the drc. A bill aiming to implement the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has been drafted. This bill codifies crimes against humanity and war crimes, including sexual crimes. It also expands the jurisdiction of the civilian judiciary to include war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by members of the armed forces. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have deemed it to be well drafted and its adoption would incorporate international legal standards on the most serious crimes into Congolese law and shift the responsibility for prosecuting such crimes from the military jurisdiction to civilian courts.26 However, the bill has not yet been enacted and has been pending in Parliament since 2003, to the author’s knowledge. This is strong evidence of a lack of due diligence on the part of the State. Given the alarming human rights situation in the eastern part of the drc, Parliament was supposed to expeditiously enact such a law. Failure to do so amounts to violation of its inhabitants’ right to personal security and it should be held to account by a competent jurisdiction.27

2.1.2 The Duty to Protect Physically

Members of the defence and security forces of a country are supposed to ensure the protection of every one living on national territory. But when they happen to be violating themselves the right to personal security in a recurrent manner, it is grave and violators must be punished harshly. This point about punishment will be elaborated upon below. In this section the focus will be on the protection of civilians from violence.28

2.1.2.1 Precaution

Due diligence requires precautionary measures on the part of the State against the effects of attacks of non-State actors, including armed opposition groups.29 In its 1998 concluding observations on Algeria with regards to the implementation of the iccpr, the Human Rights Committee held that Algerian security forces that were in the vicinity of victims attacked by Islamists groups were obliged to prevent such attacks and, if they nonetheless took place, to come immediately to the rescue of the victims.30

In the same vein, the un Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, in his 1993 report, contended that the State has to intervene in an effort to stop the violence between non-State actors:

The Special Rapporteur would once again like to draw the attention of the international community to the problem of communal violence, understood as acts of violence committed by groups of citizens of a country against other groups. In Burundi, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zaire [current drc], where violent confrontations were reported between different ethnic groups, government forces . . . did not intervene to stop the violence . . . The Special Rapporteur . . . strongly appeals to all governments to refrain from supporting groups, on ethnic or other grounds, either actively or by simply tolerating acts of violence committed by them.31

Additionally, the European Court of Human Rights held, in Ergi v Turkey, that Turkey must plan and conduct military operations so as to prevent or decrease risk to civilian life from such operations, which included protection from firing by an armed opposition group.32

In the drc’s case, violations of the right to personal security are mostly perpetrated by uncontrolled armed groups, though sadly by members of the national army as well. This latter reality just makes matters worse because who would then ensure the physical protection of the population. Nevertheless, official armed forces are supposed to take effective measures to ensure protection by preventing such violations or expeditiously intervening to stop them and defend the civilians. Unfortunately, massive violations that have occurred in the past years and quite recently clearly show that measures taken by the drc fail the due diligence test.33

2.1.2.2 Availability of Resources

Notwithstanding the above conclusion on the situation in the drc, it is noteworthy to mention that the availability of resources at the State’s disposal also plays a role in determining the due diligence obligation.34 In this sense, the un Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and the un Special Rapporteur on Torture, in their 1995 joint report on Colombia, mentioned the fact that the Colombian State apparatus was generally deficient.35 This could result in its ‘justifiable’ inability to properly ensure the protection of human rights.

One wonders whether the drc could be in a position to put forward the argument of unavailability of the necessary resources to justify its failure to physically protect its citizens in some cases.36 While this may be envisaged, the responsibility of the State can still be established with regard to due diligence applied to its management of the national resources. In Metrorail, the South African Constitutional Court established that the State has an obligation to justify failure to protect its citizens from violence. Justice O’Regan put it this way:

Details of the precise character of the resource constraints, whether human or financial, in the context of the overall resourcing of the organ of State will need to be provided. The standard of reasonableness so understood conforms to the constitutional principles of accountability, on the one hand, in that it requires decision-makers to disclose their reasons for their conduct, and the principle of effectiveness on the other, for it does not unduly hamper the decision-maker’s authority to determine what are reasonable and appropriate measures in the overall context of their activities.37

In the same way, the government of the drc should be under the duty to justify lack or insufficiency of necessary resources to ensure the right to personal security.

2.1.2.3 Propensity of Attacks

International practice shows that the possibility of attacks on civilians determines the required degree of diligence on the part of the State. In its 1993 report on the human rights situation in Colombia, the Inter-American Commission referred to this fact in the following words:

Apart from the responsibility that the State bears for actions committed directly by its agents, there is also the State’s international responsibility for the actions of irregular armed groups, although there is no single criterion to establish the type and degree of that State responsibility. Here again it is objective responsibility vis-à-vis the terrorist phenomenon. This responsibility is in respect of all its inhabitants, whether national or foreign, under the laws and jurisprudence governing aggravating circumstances such as improvidence, negligence, criminal complicity, etc., and by the mitigating circumstances of “necessary diligence”, unforeseeability, the surprise factor, a lack of proportion that could not have been anticipated.38

When attacks are unpredicted, it is envisaged as a factor that can mitigate the State’s duty to physically protect the population. However, in order to determine due diligence, the European Court of Human Rights developed, in Kilic v Turkey, the standard of ‘knew or ought to have known’ in these terms:

For a positive obligation to arise, it must be established that the authorities knew or ought to have known at the time of the existence of a real and immediate risk to the life of an identified individual or individuals from the criminal acts of a third party and that they failed to take measures within the scope of their powers which, judged reasonably, might have been expected to avoid that risk.39

In this perspective, Zegveld suggests that ‘the frequency of the attacks by armed opposition groups is closely related to foreseeability, and is therefore also relevant in determining whether in a particular case the State was obliged to act.’40 Cook also suggests, in the same sense, that State’s responsibility may be established when the attacks have a pervasive or persistent character:

A state bears . . . liability in failing to act to prevent an anticipated violation of human rights. The behavior of private individuals or agencies may indirectly indicate a State’s lack of due diligence. Indeed, a State may be considered to have facilitated an international wrong or to be complicit in its commission when the wrong is of a pervasive or persistent character.41

The recurrence of mass rapes in the drc is very illustrative of the above statements. In fact, the behaviour of perpetrators of mass rapes indicates that existing measures aiming to physically protect women and girls are not efficient enough to deter such criminals. The ‘culture of impunity’ in the country is one of the factors that contribute to perpetuating such behaviour.

2.1.3 The Duty to Protect through Prosecution

The duty to protect through prosecution entails a threefold action on the part of the State. This includes the duty to investigate the violations, the duty to punish the perpetrators of violations, and the duty to provide remedies to the victims or their families.42

Not all international human rights instruments explicitly provide for a duty to prosecute human rights abuses. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Genocide Convention)43 and the Convention Against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (The Convention Against Torture)44 are the only ones containing the most explicit obligations to investigate and punish specific human rights crimes such as genocide and torture.

In contrast, the most comprehensive human rights treaties, particularly the iccpr, do not explicitly enjoin States Parties to punish violations of the rights they ensure. However, some monitoring bodies and other authorities have interpreted such treaties as requiring States Parties generally to investigate and punish perpetrators of serious violations of physical integrity.45 Such duties derive from the States Parties’ ‘affirmative obligation to ensure rights set forth in these Conventions’.46

International practice has shown that due diligence relatively comes into play in the duty to investigate violations. The un Special Rapporteurs, Rodley and Ndiaye, have noted the following regarding Colombia, a context quite similar to the drc’s:

Although impunity affects the entire judicial branch, the greatest problems occur during the investigatory phase . . . Because of the high number of crimes committed in the country, its task is particularly difficult. In many parts of the national territory the victims themselves or witnesses prefer to remain silent for fear of reprisals or react to the violations by moving to another region, thus making the investigators’ work considerably more difficult.47

In addition, the European Commission on Human Rights suggested, in Yasa v. Turkey, that the due diligence standard does not necessarily require States to successfully conduct the investigation and the actual prosecution of violators of human rights.48 In the same perspective, the European Court of Human Rights held, in Kaya v. Turkey, that the due diligence standard requires States to start an investigation of alleged violations and ensure its effectiveness.49

Carlos Nino contends that, notwithstanding the deterrent effect that they are meant to produce, prosecutions may have ‘some limit and must be counterbalanced with the aim of preserving the democratic system’.50 He further argues that ‘factual context may frustrate a government’s effort to promote the prosecution of persons responsible for human rights abuses, except at the risk of provoking further violence and a return to non-democratic rule.’51

Such factual context dictated the agreement reached by the different parties to the Inter-Congolese negotiations held in South Africa in 2002. They aimed to end the civil war and reunify the country. One of the outcomes of the negotiations was a political agreement to grant amnesty to former rebels, some of whom had committed violations of human rights.

Moreover, after the ‘transitional period’, the elected Government faced another rebellion between 2007 and 2008 in the North Kivu province. Apart from military-related infractions, human rights violations were also perpetrated during that period. In a quest to find a solution to this problem the Government had a dilemma. On the one hand, there was a priority of bringing the rebellion to an end and restore peace and security in that region. On the other hand, there was a necessity of instituting prosecutions against suspected rebels for human rights violations, with the risk of jeopardising the peace process. Ultimately, the Government chose ‘peace’ to the detriment of ‘justice’.52 The subsequent drc Government’s decision, taken early 2012 under international community’s pressure, to finally arrest the icc’s wanted Bosco Ntaganda, is believed to have caused its recent armed conflict against the Movement of March 23 (M23) rebel group.

3 Situation of Loss of Government Control

In the above sections, it has been shown that State responsibility arises where a State has failed to fulfil its international human rights obligations. This presupposes that the State could have taken reasonable measures to ensure human rights of its citizens and other inhabitants but failed to do so. Such a situation may be envisaged in the case of effective control of the government over the national territory. Arguably, lack of such effective control may preclude the State’s responsibility.53

It is observed that ‘the government’s ineffectiveness in part or the entire State’s territory temporarily relieves the State from its obligations in the non-controlled area.’54 The drc has been going through such a situation, for about 15 years, where rebel groups and militias have had control over portions of the national territory. Thus, the drc’s Government may not concede to be held accountable for human rights violations that have taken place in those areas.

3.1 Temporary Inoperativeness of Human Rights Treaties

The situation of lack of effective control over part or the entirety of its national territory temporarily removes a state’s human rights obligations under relevant human rights treaties, which become temporarily inoperative.55 This has been shown in international practice. In 1983, established authorities in Lebanon controlled a limited territory of the country as a result of civil war. With respect to the operation of the iccpr in Lebanon, a un Human Rights Committee expert observed:

Normally the Committee examined the legal regime applied by a government in full control of the situation. In some cases it considered the human rights situation in a State where the government, for one reason or another, was not disposed to apply the legislative system under examination. Lebanon was an example of that situation, since the government exercised full authority only in the Beirut metropolitan area. It had to be accepted that in such circumstances the Covenant ceased to be a useful instrument and the Committee was not an effective organ.56

In 1989, a similar situation prevailed in Afghanistan where established authorities exercised limited territorial control. The un Human Rights Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan stated:

The territorial sovereignty of the Afghan Government is not fully effective since some provinces of Afghanistan are totally or partly in the hands of traditional forces. The responsibility for the respect of human rights is therefore divided . . . where the Government has control over the territory . . . the human rights instrument have to be respected.57

Similar observations may be made concerning the drc where the Government has repeatedly lost control of portions of the national territory as a result of civil war and the presence of foreign armed groups. Some parts of the country, particularly in rural areas of the eastern provinces, are still controlled by militias58 that do not claim any political opposition against the established Government. However, in such a case the State should still exercise due diligence and physically protect the populations living in those areas.

4 Minimum Core Standard

By virtue of the principle of indivisibility and interdependence of human rights,59 the minimum core concept adopted in the framework of socio-economic rights may also be considered for civil rights such as the right to personal security. The aim of the minimum core concept is to confer a ‘minimum legal content’ to guaranteed human rights.60 In its General Comment 3, the un Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stipulates that ‘. . . the obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of each of the rights is incumbent upon every State Party.’61

Case-law shows a certain variety in the applicability of the minimum core standard by different States. For instance, in Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v Irene Grootboom and Others, the South African Constitutional Court preferred the reasonableness standard to the one of minimum core in dealing with a matter related to the right of access to adequate housing. Led by Justice Yacoob, this Court rejected the minimum core standard by holding:

There may be cases where it may be possible and appropriate to have regard to the content of a minimum core obligation to determine whether the measures taken by the State are reasonable. However, even if it were appropriate to do so, it could not be done unless sufficient information is placed before a court to enable it to determine the minimum core in any given context. In this case, we do not have sufficient information to determine what would comprise the minimum core obligation in the context of our Constitution. It is not in any event necessary to decide whether it is appropriate for a court to determine in the first instance the minimum core content of a right.62

In contrast, the Colombian Constitutional Court has adopted the minimum core standard by applying it in a number of socio-economic rights. Chowdhury refers to a case which conforms to the definition of the right to health as framed by the un Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in the following terms:

In July 2008, the Constitutional Court handed down a decision in which it ordered a dramatic restructuring of the country’s health system. The judgment came as the culmination of an enormous amount of litigation to enforce the right to health. The Court demonstrated its commitment to the minimum core approach by giving very specific content to the right to health through its mandate that the right is immediately enforceable for certain categories (which it defines in detail) of plaintiffs even though they are unable to afford health care.63

While acknowledging the pertinence of the South African Constitutional judge’s view referred to above, the Colombian Constitutional Court shows that the minimum core obligation is indeed applicable. A minimum core obligation of the right to personal security has not yet been clearly defined by national or regional courts, neither by the un Human Rights Committee. Nevertheless, inspiration can be drawn from academia in order to attempt a definition of such a minimum core obligation.

Lazarus has attempted to clarify what the content of the right to security should be in the following terms: ‘The right to security is a right giving rise to a correlative duty on the State to establish the factual conditions whereby objective risks of present and future threats that give rise to reasonable subjective feelings of apprehension or insecurity are minimised to such a degree that the enjoyment of all other rights is possible.’64

Since the right to personal security does not equate to the right to be secure or safe, Lazarus’ definition may be considered as a minimum core obligation on the part of the State. Thus, the drc may be held to account for its failure to establish such factual conditions. These may be constituted of effective defence and security forces capable of minimising objective risks that endanger the enjoyment of other basic rights. However, judges are not likely to decide what would constitute the minimum core of the right to personal security in the above sense. In fact, the doctrine of separation of powers would dictate the judges to leave the determination of policy priorities and decisions on the allocation of the necessary funds to the executive and legislative branches.

5 Conclusion

In order to change the status quo in the drc with regard to respect of the right to personal security, the Government should be held to account for violations of its international human rights obligations. This paper has attempted to explore prospects for this accountability in light of case-law, international practice and literature in the field of human rights.

Under the doctrine of State Responsibility, the drc has the duty to exercise due diligence in protecting its inhabitants against violence through legislation, precautionary measures and prosecution. When due diligence is not properly exercised the State may be held accountable. However, the drc’s responsibility may not be established under certain mitigating circumstances and factors. Such circumstances and factors may be the loss of part of territorial control, the necessity of granting amnesty to some perpetrators of human rights violations and the difficulty of judicially determining the minimum core of the right to personal security.

Nevertheless, the demonstrated possibility of judicially holding the drc accountable for failure to respect its international human rights obligations should be capitalised by competent jurisdictions, such as the un Human Rights Committee, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights or the International Court of Justice, in order to improve the situation of the right to personal security on the ground.

1 Article 52(1) of the 2006 Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 217 A (iii) of 10 December 1948; Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by United Nations General Assembly resolution 2200A (xxi) on 16 December 1966; Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Also referred to as the Banjul Charter), adopted on 27 June 1981, oau Doc cab/leg/67/3 rev 5, 21 ilm 58 (1982), entered into force on 21 October 1986.

2 D.M. Chirwa, ‘The Doctrine of State Responsibility as a Potential Means of Holding Private Actors Accountable for Human Rights’, 5 Melbourne Journal of International Law (2004), 1–36. Chirwa relies on the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (icj) – New Zealand v France (1990) 20 riaa 217; Hungary v Slovakia (1997) icj Rep 3 – to contend that a violation of an international human rights obligation can give rise to State responsibility. See also R.J. Cook, ‘State Responsibility for Violations of Women’s Human Rights’, 7 Harvard Human Rights Journal (1994) 125–175.

3 Cook, above, 2.

4 The International Law Commission, under a United Nations General Assembly mandate, adopted the Draft Articles on State Responsibility in November 2001. This document is not legally binding per se on member States of the United Nations Organisation but it has gained the status of customary international law. It has been referred to, inter alia, by the International Court of Justice in some cases. But as primarily a public international law principle, only a State can bring a claim against another State invoking its responsibility for breaching its international obligations.

5 Cook (note 2) 9.

6 L. Zegveld, Accountability of Armed Opposition Groups in International Law (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002), p. 182.

7 Ibid. ‘Appropriate measures are those measures which the State can reasonably be required to take in view of its own capabilities and the situation’. See also Chirwa (note 2), 11 ‘Due diligence relates to the question of whether the steps taken by the State are “reasonable” or “serious”. Where the State takes reasonable measures to prevent and react to violations the State will not be held responsible even when the outcome of those efforts is unsatisfactory.’

8 Judgment of 29 July 1988, Inter-Am Ct hr (Ser C) No 4 (1988).

9 Velásquez (above) para. 174; See also Social and Economic Rights Action Centre and the Centre for Economic and Social Rights v Nigeria, African Commission, Communication No 155/96 (2001) (‘serac Case’) para. 57, available online at: http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/africa/comcases/155–96.html (accessed 13 October 2011). The African Commission held: ‘Governments have a duty to protect their citizens, not only through appropriate legislation and effective enforcement but also by protecting them from damaging acts that may be perpetrated by private parties . . . .’

10 Velásquez, supra note 8, para. 175.

11 Chirwa (note 2), 11.

12 Velásquez, supra note 8, para. 178.

13 Chirwa (note 2), 13.

14 Ibid.

15 Zegveld (note 6), 184.

16 This obligation derives, inter alia, from Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 2(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 4(1) of the American Convention on Human Rights.

17 Velásquez, supra note 8, para. 167.

19 Ibid., para. 23. See also Airey v Ireland, 32 Eur Ct H R (ser A) (1979) paras 25, 26, available online at: http://strasbourgconsortium.org/document.php?DocumentID=4548 (accessed 4 October 2011). In this case the European Court found, inter alia, a violation of the complainant’s right under Article 6(1) of the European Convention to ‘a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law’ because no provision existed for access to affordable legal assistance or a simplified judicial procedure that she could undertake without legal aid. The Court relied on the provision of the European Convention which requires the State to undertake some positive action and that in such circumstances the State could not just remain passive.

20 Ibid., para. 27.

21 Ibid.

22 See Cook, supra note 9, 11.

23 Law of 20 July 2006 modifying and completing the Congolese Penal Code (Loi No 06/018 du 20 juillet 2006 modifiant et complétant le Décret du 30 janvier 1940 portant Code pénal congolais, Journal Officiel de la République Démocratique du Congo, No 15).

24 See Amnesty International, The Time for Justice is Now: New Strategy Needed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (August 2011), 22. Also see generally Human Rights Watch, ‘Soldiers Who Rape, Commanders Who Condone, Sexual Violence and Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo’ (2009), available online at: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/drc0709web.pdf (accessed 2 August 2011).

25 This civil law procedure allows individuals to appear before the judge independently from the prosecution process. It is currently provided for only before civil courts and tribunals. As a consequence, victims can only constitute themselves “partie civile” (civil party) alongside the prosecutor in order to claim any reparation. Where prosecution has not been instituted, victims are simply ignored by the military justice system.

26 See Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (note 24).

27 Such competent jurisdiction could be the un Human Rights Committee, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights or the International Court of Justice.

28 According to Sandra Fredman, ‘The right to security is more than a right of restraint: it requires the State to put in place systems to defend the security rights of citizens, in the form at the very least of a defence force’ (S. Fredman, ‘The Positive Right to Security’, in B.J. Goold and L. Lazarus (eds), Security and Human Rights (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2007) p. 312).

29 Zegveld (note 6), 188.

30 ccpr/c/79/ Add 95 (Concluding Observations on Algeria, 18 August 1998) para. 6, available online at: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/ccpr.c.79.Add.95.En?Opendocument (accessed 13 October 2011).

31 un Commission on Human Rights, e/cn 4/1994/7 (Report by the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, 7 December 1993) para. 709, available online at: http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/TestFrame/5915de1108eea5938025672a00548aad?Opendocument (accessed 13 October 2011).

32 Judgment of 28 July 1998, paras 80–81, available online at: http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/488 (accessed 4 October 2011).

33 See generally the Report on the Investigation Missions of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office into Mass Rapes and Other Human Rights Violations Committed in the Villages of Bushani and Kalambahiro, in Masisi Territory, North Kivu, on 31 December 2010 and 1 January 2011, available online at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/zr/unjhroReportMassRapesBushani_en.pdf (accessed 1 April 2011); Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (note 24); United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Preliminary Report of the fact-finding mission of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office into mass rapes and other human rights violations by a coalition of armed groups along the Kibua-Mpofi road in Walikale, North Kivu, from 30 July to 2 August 2010, 24 September 2010, available online at: http://www.humansecuritygateway.com/documents/ohchr_PreliminaryReportoftheFactFindingMissionoftheunjhrointoMassRapesandOtherHumanRightsViolationsinWalikaleNorthKivu.pdf (accessed 1 April 2011).

34 Zegveld (note 6) 192.

35 See un Commission on Human Rights e/cn 4/1995/111 (Joint Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture, NS Rodley, and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, 16 January 1995), para. 51, available online at: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/undoc/gen/G95/101/73/pdf/G9510173.pdf?OpenElement (accessed 15 October 2011).

36 For instance, given the economic situation of the drc, the budget allocated to the army is so insignificant to the point that some of the fardc’s operations aimed at securing the population are supported logistically by the un Mission in the drc. Also the inaccessibility of some rural areas due to lack of proper roads makes it difficult for the armed forces to intervene on time in situations where the security of civilians is endangered.

37 Rail Commuters Action Group and Others v Transnet Ltd t/a Metrorail and Others, Rail Commuters Action Group v Transnet Ltd t/a Metrorail (cct 56/03) 2005 (2) sa 359 (cc) para. 88.

38 See Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, oea/Ser L/v/ii 84 (Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia) 217, available online at: http://www.cidh.org/countryrep/Colombia93eng/toc.htm (accessed 04 October 2011).

40 Zegveld, supra note 6, 164.

41 Cook, supra note 2, 13.

42 Sandra Fredman argues that, ‘[T]he right to security is more than a right of restraint: it requires the State to put in place systems to defend the security rights of citizens, in the form at the very least of . . . a criminal justice system’ (note 28), 312.

43 See generally Articles 1, 3, 4 and 6 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, approved and proposed for signature and ratification or accession by the un General Assembly Resolution 260 A (iii) of 9 December 1948.

44 See Article 7 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by the un General Assembly resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984.

45 See D.F. Orentlicher, ‘Settling Accounts: The Duty to Prosecute Human Rights Violations of Prior Regime’, 100 Yale Law Journal (1991), 2537–2615.

46 Ibid., 12.

47 Note 35, para. 82.

49 Judgment of 19 February 1998, para. 86, available online at: http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/544 (accessed 04 October 2011).

50 C.S. Nino, ‘The Duty to Punish Past Abuses of Human Rights Put into Context: The Case of Argentina’, 100 Yale Law Journal (1991) 2619–2640 (a critique by of Orentlicher’s article cited above).

51 Ibid., 14.

52 See the Peace Agreement between the Government and the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (cndp), Goma, 23 March 2009, available online at: http://www.iccwomen.org/publications/Peace_Agreement_between_the_Government_and_the_cndp.pdf (accessed 4 April 2011). This agreement comprises an amnesty clause. As a result, inter alia, the Government did not collaborate with the International Criminal Court with regard to its pending arrest warrant against General Bosco Ntaganda, one of the former leaders of the cndp, for alleged human rights violations.

53 See Zegveld (note 6), 207.

54 Ibid., 208.

55 Ibid., 210.

56 ccpr/c/sr, 444, 19th Sess, para. 12 (Opsahl, 18 July 1983).

57 e/cn 4/1989/24, paras 68–69 (Report on the Situation in Afghanistan by the Special Rapporteur, F Ermacom, 16 February 1989).

58 For instance, Rwandan militias of the fdlr exercise control over portions of territory where human rights violations occur. For a better understanding of the fdlr phenomenon in the drc, see generally Pole Institute, ‘Guerillas in the Mist: The Congolese Experience of the fdlr War in Eastern Congo and the Role of the International Community’, February 2010, available online at: http://www.pole-institute.org/documents/pole-fdlr-english.pdf (accessed 01 April 2011).

59 Article 5 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, 25 June 1993, un Doc A/conf 157/23, 1993.

60 See Joie Chowdhury, ‘Judicial Adherence to a Minimum Core Approach to Socio-Economic Rights – A Comparative Perspective’ (2009). Cornell Law School Inter-University Graduate Student Conference Papers. Paper 27, available online at: http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/lps_clacp/27 Westlaw, 4.

61 un Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No 3, para. 10.

62 (cct11/00) 2001 (1) sa 46, para. 33.

63 Chowdhury, supra note 9, 8.

64 L. Lazarus, ‘The Right to Security – Securing Rights or Securitizing Rights’ in Proceedings of a Workshop on Security, Rights and Democracy (University of Cape Town, Faculty of Law, Centre of Criminology, 16 April 2011), 4.

  • 8

    Judgment of 29 July 1988Inter-Am Ct hr (Ser C) No 4 (1988).

  • 22

    See Cooksupra note 9 11.

  • 32

    Judgment of 28 July 1998paras 80–81 available online at: http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/488 (accessed 4 October 2011).

  • 39

    Judgment of 28 March 2000para. 63 available online at: http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/547 (accessed 4 October 2011).

  • 40

    Zegveldsupra note 6 164.

  • 41

    Cooksupra note 2 13.

  • 46

    Ibid. 12.

  • 49

    Judgment of 19 February 1998para. 86 available online at: http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/544 (accessed 04 October 2011).

  • 51

    Ibid. 14.

  • 54

    Ibid. 208.

  • 55

    Ibid. 210.

  • 63

    Chowdhurysupra note 9 8.

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State Responsibility and the Right to Personal Security in the drc: A Human Rights Law Perspective

in African Journal of Legal Studies

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References

8

Judgment of 29 July 1988Inter-Am Ct hr (Ser C) No 4 (1988).

22

See Cooksupra note 9 11.

32

Judgment of 28 July 1998paras 80–81 available online at: http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/488 (accessed 4 October 2011).

39

Judgment of 28 March 2000para. 63 available online at: http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/547 (accessed 4 October 2011).

40

Zegveldsupra note 6 164.

41

Cooksupra note 2 13.

46

Ibid. 12.

49

Judgment of 19 February 1998para. 86 available online at: http://www.humanrights.is/the-human-rights-project/humanrightscasesandmaterials/cases/regionalcases/europeancourtofhumanrights/nr/544 (accessed 04 October 2011).

51

Ibid. 14.

54

Ibid. 208.

55

Ibid. 210.

63

Chowdhurysupra note 9 8.

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