Global Policy Forum

Putting Complementarity into Practice: Domestic Justice for International Crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya

Open Society Foundations in a new report argues that actors besides the ICC can work toward diminishing "impunity gaps" in international criminal law. The ICC, according to the doctrine of "complementarity," only prosecutes mass crimes that national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute. The OSF suggests that impunity gaps that result can be ameliorated by the combined effort of donor states, civil society and international organizations to promote domestic courts. The report assesses case studies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Kenya.


By Eric A. Witte

Open Society Foundations
January 2011

Wars and mass violence regularly leave thousands of people raped or killed in their wake.  National justice systems are meant to take the lead in bringing perpetrators to justice. But legal systems are often unable to do so because of armed conflict, corruption, or inadequate investment. Moreover, the enthusiasm of political leaders to bring high-level suspects to justice is often lacking.  At the same time, the International Criminal Court (ICC) cannot deal with all the international crimes that take place around the world. Indeed, the ICC was founded on the idea of "complementarity"-that the ICC can only step in when states are unwilling or unable to prosecute mass crimes.  Increasingly, the global community is starting to realize that other actors-donor states, civil society, international organizations-must assume greater responsibility to make sure these crimes do not go unpunished.

An Open Society Justice Initiative report, Putting Complementarity Into Practice: Domestic Justice for International Crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya, argues that rule of law donors and programmers-and their partners in government and civil society-can make a substantial contribution to ending the impunity gap for serious crimes. By strategically building on justice efforts already underway by rule of law donors, states around the world that have suffered from massive international crimes may have a better chance of providing accountability for these abuses.

Examining three case studies-the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya-the report assesses what has already been done by rule of law actors to promote national accountability for mass crimes, identifies existing gaps, offers lessons learned from past experience, and makes recommendations for going forward.

The 118-page report, undertaken and published by the Open Society Justice Initiative, in conjunction with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, seeks to determine:

  • How the international community has supported these post-conflict states in developing the capacity to carry out fair trials through genuine investigations and prosecutions
  • The extent to which these efforts have been integrated into more general rule-of-law programming, and
  • The level of coordination among donors, and between donors and governments, on complementarity-related activities.
This report should provide essential reading for rule of law donors, government officials, legal practitioners, and members of civil society.

To read the full report, click here.

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