The men telling Joey and me this story are three of Balibuno's friends. Balibuno called one the night of September 14, 2010. "He wasn't talking to me, but the call was still open," the friend remembers. "I heard him yelling, 'Where are you taking me? You told me that we were going to a dancing club. Now we've just passed it. What are we doing here? Now there's a military jeep full of soldiers in front of us, blocking the road. Tell me if you're going to kill me. Tell me if you're going to kill me; we didn't agree on this. I'm not okay with this. I didn't tell you I wanted to go to Bosco's. If you want to kill me, tell me so.' Then the call cut. I called back. It rang; no one picked up. I called back again. It didn't go through."
Children internally displaced by the 2008 Kiwanja massacre, carried out by the CNDP while Bosco was military chief of staff Photo: Sarah ElliottBalibuno's friends weren't surprised when his body was found outside a restaurant with bullets in the chest, neck, and head. They knew his failure to pledge loyalty to Bosco, his walking away from Zimurinda, was trouble. He'd been claiming for months that Bosco's men were arranging his assassination. Soon, soldiers came looking for Balibuno's friends, too, because they'd given testimony to local military officials. There was evidence to suggest who'd killed him—men who were, in fact, staying with Bosco. But when the military commander of the region sent soldiers to arrest the assassins at Bosco's house, other soldiers loyal to Bosco turned them away.
Balibuno's friends ran. They're now far away from home, separated from their families and out of work. They are desperate. They think their families might be slaughtered. They don't have any money. If they are found today, they tell us, they will die today. They can't talk to the government because the government has turned a blind eye to Bosco since the peace deal. They emailed the ICC to tell them they want to testify because it's impossible to get help from their own government. Lots of people are hiding like this. Lots of people have fled Goma. Please could I give them money so they can pay rent? Actually money for rent will only sustain them in the short term, so please can I find a way to relocate them to another country? Even if I'm just a journalist, maybe I have friends or contacts who can evacuate them. As long as they stay in this country they will have to hide.
Wait for them to leave, the witnesses say. Let them leave first, in case there are men outside waiting to kill them.
"You'll never be able to live freely in Congo?" I ask.
"If they arrested Bosco," one of them replies instantly, "I'd go home."
For now, they're going back to the tiny place they share. We stand up when they stand up, and they immediately tell us to sit back down. Wait for them to leave, they say. Let them leave first, in case there are men outside waiting to kill them. They file out one at a time—without saying a word to each other—each waiting a few minutes after the one before so that if an ambush is there, only the first will be killed and maybe the others can escape.
The last witness out puts this face on before he exits, sort of a deep-breath, head-up, resolved-but-fearful look as he makes his way toward the door. Shortly before, he'd lamented Congo's policy of integrating former warlords into its national army in the interest of everyone getting along. Congo's minister of communications has said that the government prioritizes peace over justice. In addition to reigning over the former CNDP, Bosco is a friend of the Rwandan government, and it's imperative that Rwanda stays an ally, since it went to war with Congo twice in the '90s. "What does that mean?" the witness asks rhetorically. "It means people can die, but Bosco will always stay in power."
For the last few years, with foreign donor money and partners like the American Bar Association, Congo has been working to mitigate its history of impunity by finally trying some war criminals. It currently runs itinerant courts that travel to remote spots to talk to victims of rape and other atrocities. One mobile court official whose name can't be used or likeness described—you see the theme here—has worked on dozens of such cases, and wishes Bosco were one of them. But he knows what impunity looks like better than almost anyone: Sometimes when ex-CNDP soldiers are arrested, a bunch of other soldiers come to the jail with guns and demand them back. "These crimes [Bosco's] done are inexplicably horrible," the official says when I meet him. "If we could, I would arrest him."
This judicial official performs one of the most dangerous jobs in the country from a filthy office with ripped couches. Though any conviction is a real milestone here, some experts argue that the government is going after only smaller fish. If anyone ever does arrest Bosco, the official says, he's ready to assist in the prosecution. They've got some files on him that would give you nightmares. "The ICC listed only a few reasons on the warrant. We could arrest him for many more."
"So why aren't you guys arresting him?" I ask.
"I can't say it directly. As we're working for justice, there are always people working in the opposite direction."
"Are you talking about people in the government, like President Kabila?"
"In the name of peace, I have to keep it a secret."
Being this vocal about justice does not make the judicial official's life easier. He's had plenty of threats on his life. "I left my house," he says. When I tell him he has giant balls to keep coming to work and keep his composure, he says simply, "No one can know that I am ever afraid."
"We want zero tolerance," he says, and Kabila has stated the same. The official says that overall, "What we ask of the world is to help us have the authority of the state, in all corners of the forest." He walks Joey and me out, and we emerge into the blazing sunshine. He squints while he shakes our hands, and though I can feel his palm and fingers warmly, hugely enclosing mine, I have the weird feeling that it's not really happening—a reaction, I suppose, to my understanding that the human currently touching me is pretty likely to be murdered.
Before the witnesses ended up in the place that can't be named, they sought refuge from a very manly sounding acronym: MONUSCO. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a peacekeeping force nearly 25,000 strong, a whole massive international ICC-cooperative army. It's headed by Roger Meece, who's from the United States, which picks up the largest share of its cost—$1.37 billion between July 2010 and June 2011.
Meece was out of town when I was in Congo's capital. But his No. 2, Leila Zerrougui, and her special assistant, Francesca Jannotti Pecci, received me in a cool office in the UN's Kinshasa compound.
"For us," Zerrougui explained, "the most important issue that we have to address—because it's the high-profile issue that attracts interest—is the protection of civilians." (They will not comment on why they only protected Balibuno's friends for a month.) The second, and sometimes competing, priority of the mission is to get rid of rebel groups by supporting the Congolese army's operations against them.
"You cannot imagine the time that we spent to screen the commanders that we work with," Zerrougui says. "You cannot imagine the time that we put in to make sure that we will not work with people that could put the population at risk. It's the government of the DRC who decides to have an agreement, to integrate a former armed group in the national army. We are not an occupying force. We are a force that is in support of the government—that is sovereign, that has its own institution, its army, etc." And though there's not as much improvement in places like Masisi, Zerrougui says, all in all there are big improvements in regional security. She laments that "people are always talking about what is not done."