Pope Francis is beginning a six-day Africa visit with stops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan starting today.
He will visit the DRC from January 31 to February 3 and South Sudan from February 3-5. Francis the first pope to visit South Sudan, while the last visit by a pope to the DRC — Africa’s largest Catholic nation — was 38 years ago.
Ahead of the visit, Amnesty International on Tuesday called on Pope Francis to urge leaders to address impunity in DRC and South Sudan, noting that for over 25 years now, armed conflicts in the DRC have claimed millions of lives, with both Congolese and foreign perpetrators of these crimes largely remaining unpunished.
Earlier this year, a government-appointed committee submitted the first version of a “national transitional justice strategy”, which could take years to finalize and translate into action.
In 2015 and 2018, parties to South Sudan’s latest conflict committed to setting up an African Union-backed Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) to investigate and prosecute war crimes and other human rights violations committed in the conflict since December 2013. But the creation of the HCSS has been delayed, leaving little to no prospects for accountability for crimes under international law for millions of survivors and victims.
“During his trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, Pope Francis should publicly call on the countries’ leaders to take concrete steps to end impunity for crimes under international law. Improving the human rights situation in each country will not be possible without criminal accountability for atrocities committed amid the armed conflicts,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
Chagutah added, “While the DRC authorities initiated a “transitional justice” process, their efforts to actually achieve accountability and justice have proved half-hearted and hesitant. Meanwhile, South Sudanese authorities have failed to prosecute perpetrators of crimes under international law, or to establish the AU-backed Hybrid Court for South Sudan, despite provisions in two peace deals. Instead, they appear to prioritize truth over trials.”
“It is essential that the authorities in each country take urgent steps to address rampant impunity for the atrocities committed during armed conflicts, which have ravaged the countries in recent decades.”