Home / Events / ISS Seminar, Report: Achieving Peace, Security and Justice in the Great Lakes Region
ISS Seminar, Report: Achieving Peace, Security and Justice in the Great Lakes Region
Date: 6 November 2012
Venue: , ISS Conference Room, Block C, Brooklyn Court, 361 Veale Street, New Muckleneuk, Pretoria Parking in Lange Street opposite Anton van Vouw Primary School


  • Dr Phil Clark, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London
  • Prof. Michelo Hansungule, Centre for Human Rights, the University of Pretoria
  • Naomi Kok, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis (CPRA), Institute for Security Studies


  • Martin Ewi, Transnational Threats and International Crime (TTIC), Institute for Security Studies

The ongoing M23 rebellion, which is allegedly supported by Rwanda and involves the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictee General Bosco Ntaganda, has caused an unprecedented human security crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Congolese being displaced by the conflict. These events have cast a spotlight on peace, security and justice issues in the Great Lakes – issues that have dominated this region since the Rwandan civil war and the subsequent 1994 genocide. Domestically, Rwanda has prosecuted more than 400 000 suspected perpetrators of the genocide through the gacaca courts, while the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has prosecuted 65 high-level suspects. However, almost two decades later, many combatants who were responsible for Rwandan genocide crimes continue to wreak havoc in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Forces DàƒÂ©mocratiques de LibàƒÂ©ration du Rwanda (FDLR), which comprises large numbers of these combatants, have long been Rwanda`s excuse for backing rebel groups and invasions in the eastern DRC. To date, justice has been a vital component of post-conflict reconstruction in the Great Lakes – through international courts such as the ICTR and the ICC and community-level initiatives such as gacaca – but in a region where international and domestic justice has been so scattered and peace and security have been so scarce, we need to reconceptualise the connections between peace, justice and human security.

In this seminar, the speakers examined the dynamics of the current security situation in the Great Lakes region.

The first speaker, Naomi Kok, provided an overview of how the security situation has unfolded in the eastern DRC since April 2012, as an introduction to Dr Phil Clark`s presentation. Kok explained that the DRC`s relapse into crisis was rooted in the flawed November 2011 elections. The origins of the M23 rebellion were explained as being rooted in the CongràƒÂ¨s national pour la dàƒÂ©fense du peuple (CNDP) and the Rassemblement Congolais pour la DàƒÂ©mocratie (RDC). The M23 was formed largely out of ex-CNDP fighers who had been integrated into the Forces ArmàƒÂ©es de la RàƒÂ©publique DàƒÂ©mocratique du Congo (FARDC), under the peace agreement of 23 March 2009. The ex-CNDP fighters defected from the FARDC due to the possibility of their leader Bosco Ntaganda being arrested, but also due to rumours of plans in Kinshasa to deploy the ex-CNDP fighters outside the Kivus after the 2011 elections. However, when the M23 was formed, they claimed that they defected from the FARDC because they were ill treated and wished to renegotiate the March 23 peace deal. A report from the United Nations Group of Experts (GoE) on the DRC has since claimed that Rwanda is behind the success of the M23, as it has allegedly supported the rebellion through recruiting for the M23, providing and transporting weapons, lobbying Congolese leaders for the M23, supporting FARDC mutinies and sanctioned individuals, and the Rwandan Defence Forces directly intervening in Congolese territory.

It has become clear that integrating armed groups into the FARDC does not seem to be a lasting solution. The crisis in the eastern DRC has become intractable due to a combination of factors, including the history of interference from Rwanda and the weakness of the Congolese state. The mixture of ethnic grievances, poor resource governance, various business interests and failing security sector reform further complicates the situation in the Kivus. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) has proposed a ‘neutral force` to address the rapidly deteriorating situation, but not much progress has been made in terms of making this proposed force operational. Also, there are various problems with the ‘neutrality` of such a force, given that most countries in the region have at some point been involved in the DRC. While a coherent response from regional bodies, the African Union and the United Nations remains elusive, the relations between Kigali and Kinshasa have been deteriorating. If Kigali is indeed backing the M23, then it would appear that the rebellion is likely to succeed, and that Kigali will gain greater control of the east. At the same time, the anti-Rwanda and anti-Tutsi sentiment is growing in the east.

Lastly, it is possible that this conflict may some day spill back over into Rwanda. The leaders of the M23 have previously been involved in rebellions in both the DRC and Rwanda, and thus have a history of being involved in violent conflict throughout the region.

Dr Clark`s presentation addressed three key points. First, he argued that, in trying to understand the causes of the M23 rebellion and the nature of violence in the eastern DRC more generally, international policymakers and commentators have relied too heavily on the UN GoE`s reports on the DRC. These reports are often underpinned by flawed methodologies, which have led to erroneous findings, and therefore need to be treated much more critically.

Second, Dr Clark argued that international responses to conflict in central Africa are based on two principal assumptions: that justice, peace and security are mutually reinforcing, particularly when justice is interpreted as the international prosecution of suspected high-level perpetrators of serious crimes; and that international institutions, because of their supposed neutrality and impartiality, are deemed preferable to domestic institutions in delivering justice and peace. Even though international justice deploys the language of ‘complementarity` and international peacekeeping assumes ‘coordination` with domestic actors, this is more rhetoric than reality: international actors have tended to assume primacy and to actively sideline domestic processes in addressing mass crimes in the Great Lakes.

Third, Dr Clark highlighted the failures of these two international assumptions in the face of the recent violence in eastern DRC. He argued that international justice – particularly the International Criminal Court (ICC) – has been instrumentalised by the governments of the DRC and Uganda and, by insulating these governments from prosecution, the ICC has exacerbated, rather than helped resolve, conflict in the Great Lakes. This calls into question the assumed links among justice, peace and security. Furthermore, the actions of the ICC and the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) – including their co-optation by Congolese and other elites – shows that policies of ‘neutrality` and ‘impartiality` can easily amount to political naivetàƒÂ© and wilful detachment from political and military realities. In the process, international justice and peace interventions in the Great Lakes have tended to entrench state power and emboldened state perpetrators, while doing little to address the crimes of non-state actors. 

Prof. Michelo Hansungule responded to Dr Clark`s presentation. Prof. Hansungule pointed out that while it was difficult for him to disagree with the insights of either Dr Clark or Kok, he did want to elaborate on certain points. The first is that the situation in the DRC must be understood from a historical perspective.  The origins of the crisis in the DRC must be well understood in order to analyse the current conflict. According to Prof. Hansungule, the origins of genocide in the Great Lakes region actually originated in the DRC. During the colonial times, close to 8 million Congolese were killed.  Thus, the DRC is a country that has been embattled since before the time of Mobutu Sese Seko.

During the closure of the seminar, Martin Ewi reflected that the conflict in the eastern DRC is very complex, but that the speakers provided very interesting insights into the complicated issues affecting the region.


ISS Conference Room
Block C
Brooklyn Court
361 Veale Street
New Muckleneuk
Pretoria Parking in Lange Street opposite Anton van Vouw Primary School

Ms Maria Maluleke
Fax: (012) 460 0997/8
E-mail: Ms Maria Maluleke
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