Guilain Mathe: Armed Groups and the Governance of Human Security in North Kivu: A Contribution to the Criticism of the "New Wars" Thesis

Civil Society, Transitional Justice and Security Sector Reform: the case of Kivu in post-conflict Democratic Republic of Congo (2003-2012)

PhD-Project, DONOS, University of Basel

On December 17, 2002 the Pretoria Agreement ended litterally the « deadliest conflict after the world war II » that tore apart the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from 1996. Since, international community (UN, UE) deployed the most important peacekeeping operation worldwide in order to restore peace in the country. One among the priorities of the international peacebuilders consisted in supporting the reform of armed forces, in order to build sustainable peace through the respect of Human Rights and the rule of law.
In the current scholarship on peacebuilding, it is widely argued that civil society has an important role to play in the SSR process because of its potential for monitoring the government policies relating to security and to express local needs of justice in the aftermath of violent conflicts (Hänggi, 2009; Paffenholz, 2010). In fact, the reference to the civil society concept has been significant in the peacebuilders’ discourse and policy through the implementation of SSR. Their efforts through this program have been especially focussed on Kivu region which is the epicenter of instability in the Congo since decades.
However, more than a decade after the formal resolution of the Congo crisis, it appears that the attempts to implement transitional justice in the SSR process by the national and international peacebuilders (Congo government, UN, EU) has been resisted and hasn’t tackled the local needs of justice despite the strong mobilization of civil society claiming the respect of Human Rights through the process. Consequently, the Kivu region hasn’t returned to peace, while the belligerants constantly require amnesty and up-ranks in the armed forces during the peace negotiations.

Research questions

• How comes that the implementation of transitional justice as claimed by civil society in the SSR process in Kivu is still resisted one decade after the peace agreement resolving the Congo war?
• Does civil society share a common vision of justice with the DRC government in the SSR process in Kivu?
• Did the reference to the concept of civil society, of Western origin, by international peacebuilders led to tackle local needs of justice in the SSR process in Kivuand tu assure the democratic governance of the security sector?

Definition of the concepts

SSR encompasses all activities aimed to ensure effectively and efficiently national security and human Security in the framework of democratic governance (Hänggi, 2009). In post-conflict DRC, the SSR issues are related specifically to the disarmament of the militias and their integration into the army, the control of small arms and light weapons traffic and the preservation of Human Rights through transitional justice. Civil society refers to the scene of collective voluntary and non-restricting actions conducted within institutional frameworks around common interests, goals and values different from those of the State, the family and the market (Paffenholz, 2009). Transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries (since the 1980s) in order to redress the legacies of massive Human Rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms” (ICTJ, 2009). Transitional justice process is characterized by its victim-centered approach regardless the used mechanism. In post-conflict context, it is important to lead the transitional justice simultaneously addressing its three dimensions: distributive justice or social justice (adressing the underlying causes of the conflict); legal justice or the rule of law (to address the symptoms of conflict and refreeze the rule of law); and rectifying justice (to address the consequences of war and the litany of crimes and violations of human rights). (Mani, 2007).

Theoretical framework

  • Socio-historic approach of the post-colonial State

  • Critical Liberal peacebuilding approach

  • Towards a Critical approach of the democratic governance of the security sector

  • Critical security approach: Human security paradigm



Hypothesis 1 : Transitional justice as claimed by civil society is resisted because it is designed to deal with recent human rights abuses (since the eve of the Congo war in 1996), while this escalating violence is the achievement of a long historical path in which each local community claims the victimhood and justifies its involvement into violence by auto-defense purposes from the others’ threat.
Hypothesis 2 : The DRC government’s vision of justice in the SSR process is formally based on a human security agenda according to the civil society’s claims for justice, but its implementation remains underpinned by the persistent impunity culture that has caracterized the post-colonial DRC and the national security priorities (protection of the threatened territorial integrity and of the weak national institutions) that remain challenging the civil society’s vision of justice.
Hypothesis 3 : The reference to the concept of civil society in the SSR led international donors to tackle partially the local needs of justice by favoring legal mechanisms of transitional justice (justice sector reform and prosecutions of presumed criminals) rather than the distributive justice mostly claimed by local communities (truth-telling, forgiveness and reconciliation).
Hypothesis 4 : In the DRC, civil society is highly bureaucratically institutionalized, elitist and excludes the grassroots ethnic communities which are the main protagonists of the conflicts in Kivu. Consequently, the reference to the concept of civil society in the SSR process in DRC is not suffiscient to guarantee the democratic governance of the security sector.


Supervisor: Prof. Laurent Goetschel

Funding: Doctoral Program North-South (DONOS), University of Basel

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