DRC Reinstates Death Penalty

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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What’s Happening

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has reinstated the death penalty after banning it 21 years ago, in 2003. The DRC’s Justice Ministry released a statement that claimed the ban on the death penalty was allowing those accused of espionage and treason to escape “proper punishment.”

The ministry said the penalty will only be applied to those involved in armed gangs, insurrection, criminal conspiracies, treason, and war crimes. The ministry further added, however, that such qualifications will be applied to those within the DRC’s military as well, including rebels and anyone who defects to hostile groups.

The primary target of the death penalty being reinstated appears to be those involved in any of the eastern DRC’s over 120 different armed groups. The government noted the particular surge of violence in the east, which has been ongoing for approximately 30 years.

Of those armed groups, the DRC’s M23 Rebels have proven to be the most prominent. The reinstatement of the death penalty comes almost two months after combat resumed between the DRC’s military and the M23, after the DRC attempted to launch an offensive against the group with their new allies of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The offensive backfired, and the M23 has seized a number of key territories in their counter attacks, and has threatened several more. The renewed conflict has displaced tens of thousands more people, and is threatening to completely isolate Goma, a city of two million and the provincial capital of the North Kivu province.

The M23 has allegedly been supported by Rwanda since their initial rebellion in 2012. The alleged Rwandan support is likely a strong factor as to why they have managed to seize so much territory in the last two months, with Rwanda providing extensive support to them, Last month, the UN claimed to have spotted a Rwandan surface to air missile system within the M23’s territory after it fired upon one of their observation drones.

Opposition to the Death Penalty

Several M23 leaders have offered condemnations towards the reinstatement. Bertrand Bisimwa, the head of the M23, stated “in a context where political speeches and actions identify the traitor, the infiltrator, and the spy with a facial appearance, a spoken language and an ethnicity, this decision is none other than a legal act of legalization of ethnic cleansing currently underway.”

Bisimwa further added that the death penalty “violates the right to life of the human being.” The M23 claims that the government carries out persecutions against the regions ethnic Tutsi population, and further claims that the reinstatement of the death penalty is a part of that.

Several human rights groups have also condemned the move, referring to it as a “step backwards” for the country.

Amnesty International’s eastern and southern Africa regional director stated the “government’s decision to reinstate executions is a gross injustice for people sentenced to death in the DRC and shows a callous disregard for the right to life.”