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Congo has lifted a more than two-decade-old moratorium on the death penalty as authorities struggle to curb violence and militant attacks in the country, according to a justice ministry statement released on Friday.

The statement, dated earlier this week, said the ban from 2003 allowed offenders accused of treason and espionage to get away without proper punishment.

Eastern Congo has been riddled by conflict for decades, linked to more than 120 armed groups fighting for land and power and in some cases, protecting their communities.


The government said the violence in the east has plagued the country with recurrent conflict and resulted in a surge of attacks that have spread terror among the communities.

Congolese soldiers on trial

Soldiers accused of rape and crimes against humanity slouch in their chairs during a military tribunal in the town of Baraka, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Feb. 16, 2011. Congo has lifted a more than two-decade old moratorium on the death penalty to try and rid the country of traitors and acts of “terrorism”, said the government. The moratorium, established in 2003, has allowed offenders accused of treachery and espionage, guaranteed impunity, said the justice ministry in a statement that emerged Friday, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Pete Muller, File)

In recent years, the M23 rebel group — the most dominant in the region with alleged links to neighboring Rwanda — has continued to attack villages, forcing many to flee to Goma, the region’s largest city. M23 has laid siege to several communities with about half of North Kivu province under it’s control.

The violence in the province has worsened in recent weeks as security forces battle the rebels. Residents have said the group’s fighter mostly launch attacks with bombs out of hills overlooking remote towns.

In its statement, the justice ministry said capital punishment will be reserved for offenders involved in criminal conspiracies, armed gangs, insurrection — and also those who commit treason and war crimes. It will also be applied to the military, including those who rebel or desert and join enemy ranks.

Rights groups have condemned the decision, calling it a step back for the country.


“This initiative is against the constitution,” said Jean-Claude Katende, president of the African Association for Human Rights. “We don’t think that capital punishment and the execution of this sentence are appropriate measures to restore order.”

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