Field work in Congo; challenges and opportunities - Rianne Letschert

In the week of 16 October 2017, I went to Kampala, Uganda, to meet with a potential research team to determine whether they could conduct the case study in the Ituri region in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since the security situation in this particular region is fragile, we decided to first meet in Uganda. The two colleagues I met are Senator Prof. Dr. Ruhigwa Baguma and Kakoraki Baguma, both from Bunia which is located in Ituri. Both gentlemen are also affiliated with the University of Bunia.

I was there together with my colleague from INTERVICT, Dr. Felix Ndahinda, who knows the context in Ituri very well and has considerable experience with empirical research in the African Great Lakes region, especially in Rwanda. He also speaks French fluently, which was helpful at those moments that I forgot some of the legal words (my time in Montpellier seems so long ago…).

Reparations project Intervict Letschert and colleague Felix Ndahinda

We had extensive discussions on the situation in the DRC, in particular in the Ituri region. We discussed the two ICC cases of Lubanga and Katanga, and the various activities that have taken place to address the atrocities. Both gentlemen have extensive knowledge of the historical, cultural and socio-economic context in their region, and in the DRC as a whole. I learned a lot from talking with them over the two days together.

International Criminal Court

Reparations project Intervict Letschert in Uganda

The International Criminal Court investigation in the DRC is an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into crimes committed during the Second Congo War and its aftermath, including the Ituri and Kivu conflicts. The war started in 1998 and even though a peace agreement was reached between combatants in 2003, conflict continued in the eastern parts of the country until this very day.

In April 2004 the government of DRC formally referred the situation to the ICC, and in June 2004, then Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo, formally opened an investigation. To date, warrants of arrest were issued for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, Bosco Ntaganda, Callixte Mbarushimana, and Sylvestre Mudacumura. Lubanga and Katanga are convicted; Chui is acquitted; the pre-trial chamber declined to confirm the charges against Mbarushimana; Mudacumura is currently a fugitive; and Ntaganda’s trial is ungoing after he turned himself in to the US Embassy in Kigali on 18 March 2013, requesting to be extradited to the ICC.

We discussed our research project and explained the objectives for the Congo case study. We are particular interested in this region, because of the ICC cases against Lubanga and Katanga, and the reparations that were ordered in these two cases. Also the ICC Trust Fund has set up several projects in this region under the general assistance mandate. We discussed how we could conduct interviews with victims who are considered as victims by the Court, and those victims who are not. The child soldiers who are considered victims in the Lubanga case, live in the area around Bunia, and can be reached with precautionary measures. Some of them support Lubanga and were recruited by him to defend the interest of their community against the Lendu (they come from the ethnic group Hema).

During our meeting in Kampala, we have carefully assessed the sensitive aspects relating to conducting the interviews with the beneficiaries whom are considered as such by the ICC. With regard to the non-beneficiaries, our local partners seem to have many contacts in various villages that can be included. We do need other interviewers there, because of the different local languages.

Reparations project Intervict Letschert in Uganda

The university of Bunia has experience in qualitative research (both in the law school, and the centre for psycho social studies), but the researchers will need training in the specific method of narrative victimology. The interviewers are capable of providing information on various cultural aspects that need to be taken into account (gender issues, how to engage with local communities, how to start a dialogue on sensitive topics, how to dress in the villages, etc.). We also extensively discussed ethical issues and the research data management protocols needed when conducting this kind of research.

In our estimation based on the situation on the ground in October 2017, we wanted to start the training of the local researchers in March 2018, and start the first interviews soon after. However, since the security situation has clearly deteriorated, we need to adjust our planning. Hopefully I will be able to go to Ituri in the first week of June of this year, as is now planned. Prof. Dr. Ruhigwa Baguma and Kakoraki Baguma will come to Tilburg University in April, to participate in a seminar and to further discuss the way forward. To be continued….