Henry Wellington Wack
The Story of the Congo Free State
New York & London : Putnam 1905



Chapter XXII : The State's Administration : Department of Justice (pp.231-239 )


The magistrates by profession in number at the present time 32; they are assisted by 25 judicial agents properly so called.
The judicial services of Boma, to which are attached seven magistrates by profession, and a dozen judicial agents, allow of :
I. An Appeal Court, composed of a President and two judges, of the State Prosecutor who occupies the seat of the Public Minister on this jurisdiction, and of a Registrar ;
2. A Council of War in Appeal, the presidency of which devolves on the President of the Appeal Court, of two judges, officers of the Public Force, of the State Prosecutor, and of a Registrar;
3. A Court of First Instance, composed of a professional judge, of a substitute, a doctor of laws, and of a Registrar;
4. A Council of War of First Instance, composed of a judge, officer of the Public Force, of the substitute attached to the Court of First Instance, and of a Registrar.
These four jurisdictions are competent in penal cases. Those occurring under 1 and 3 are competent also in civil and commercial matters. They sit in such cases without Public Minister. A report of the Registrar of the Court of First Instance attached to this sets forth the order of civil business.
The other professional magistrates are distributed between the territorial courts and the councils of war.
Territorial courts exist at Matadi, Leopoldville, Popokabaka, Coquilhatville, New Antwerp, Basoko, Stanleyville, Toa (Albertville), Lukafu, Kabinda (Katanga), Lusambo, and at the chief place of the Rusisi-Kivu zone (Uvira, independently of the councils of war, which will be shortly replaced by ordinary courts as the number of magistrates is increased. The Parquet attached to these courts is represented by the substitutes of the State Prosecutor, all of whom are doctors of laws.
Among the officials of judicial rank the majority are Belgians. There are also Italians, Danes, Swiss, and Norwegians.

President of Court of Appeal : Baron G. Nisco
Judges, Court of Appeal : M. Horstmans, M.A. Gohr
Judge, Court of First Instance : M.T. Neeckman
Prosecuting Attorney : M.F. Waleffe
Director : M.A. Gohr
Magistrates (Territorial Judges and Substitutes) : Ernest Dupont, Hermann Weber, Iwan Grenade, Louis Rossi, J. Jenniges, P. Vincart, C.M.B.L. Grenban de St. Germain, Stanislas Lefranc, Martin Rutten, Albert Sweerts, Robert de Meulemeester, Michel Cuciniello, Angelo Cagginla, Mario Falcetti, Gennaro Bosco, Frederic Erdrich, Manlio Scarpari, F.J.S.M. Lambin, Torquato Polimante, Louis Tessaroli, Paul Bossolo, T.C. Lund, H.G. Moth-Borglum, C.J.R. Vandekelder, A.A.A. Celletti, C.E.A.M. Smets, C.L. Gianpetri, Jacob Vogt, Ragnvald Koht, T. Fessante, Adrien Beeckman.

The administration of justice shows that it's representatives are conscious of the responsibility of their mission. No one has ever been able to impugn it's impartiality and independence, and the judgments and sentences awarded establish it's anxiety to reach all the guilty, and not to leave unpunished any breach of the laws for the protection of the natives. I will not mention any other examples of this than the judgments recently pronounced against the agents of a trading company, upon whom heavy sentences of penal servitude were passed for crimes committed upon natives. The tribute which the Government on that occasion paid to the Courts' sense of their duties will be a valuable encouragement for them. I am confident that the Government's appeal to the vigilance of the Department of Public Prosecution to prevent any offence of the kind passing unpunished will not be in vain.
The superior administration of Boma is instructed to follow the principle of bringing before the competent courts all cases of abuses of natives that are pointed out to it by the authorities, by the direct complaints of residents in the Congo, or by criticisms in the press. These last accusations, the frequency of which is found to coincide with the campaign conducted against the Congo State, are regularly submitted on the spot to careful examination in detail. The impression that is left by the investigations that have been made, and some of which are still unfinished, is that as a general rule the complaints formulated are wanting in the precision necessary to fix the responsibility, if any, for them; or that they rest exclusively on the gossip and statements of natives which have not been sufficiently verified. In this latter respect a long experience of African affairs has shown me with what circumspection, not to say with what distrust, the statements of the blacks must be accepted. Their peculiar mental characteristic renders them inclined to lie with an ease that is disconcerting, and magistrates are obliged to direct their inquiries and questionings with real skill and untiring patience in order to arrive at the truth amongst the inaccuracies and omissions of coloured witnesses, That will reveal how much and how often the stories of sensational facts circulated by natives are distorted by them, when they are not absolutely invented, and what disappointments those who accept them too easily prepare for themselves. A typical case is that of a Protestant missionary who was accused by natives of having inflicted on the black engineer of his mission's steamer blows and wounds that caused his death. The judicial investigation disposed of this charge, which had been fabricated in all it's details by the natives with the view of avenging themselves on the missionary, with whom they were engaged in a dispute on a question of wages. And yet the natives making the accusation never ceased for a moment, despite the proofs to the contrary, from maintaining their lying charges with a persistency which could not fail to create an impression. It is to be regretted that Mr. Casement was not put on his guard against the statements of the blacks, and especially by this incident, of which he could not have been ignorant, since the missionary concerned accompanied him during the inquiry into the case of Epondo, whom the natives also represented to have been the victim of a criminal act.
I will, by another example revealed during a recent inquiry, show how much the charges brought against the Adiministration of the State are wanting in prudence. Some correspondence from a missionary published in England has given rise to violent comments in the press of that country upon the Congo Free State. When invited by the State Prosecutor to formulate and present his charges, this missionary did not allege anything against the State agent, whom, in his writings he had charged with responsibility for odious crimes. He had invoked, as corroborating his own statement, the affirmations that other European agents had made to him; he declared by what follows that these affirmations were to be kept strictly confidential. "It is true", he adds, "that these facts have been published, but as the publication was made in England I thought that the confidence placed in my discretion was not betrayed". He also declares that "before accepting the responsibility of revealing and specifying in a precise matter the facts, he desires to consult, and take the opinion of, if not a barrister, at least some one knowing Congolese law, and that the extracts published of this letter have not perhaps been made with strict precision of language". In short, the want of clearness, the subterfuge of the examination, attracted the attention of the State Prosecutor, and left on his mind the most unfavourable impression as to the good faith of this missionary, and to his highly blameworthy manner of recognising the hospitality that he hitherto enjoyed in the Congo.
I have entered into these few details in order to show the occasionally inconsiderate character of the attacks directed against our Administration.
And I owe it to truth to make another reproach, not less grave, with regard to certain foreign elements which do not seem to have an exact view of their duty in inculcating the natives by their example and teachings with the respect due to the authority of the State and to it's representatives. It is impossible not to be struck by the strange rumours in the vicinity of the Protestant missions, which for some time have been announcing to the population a change in the established order, and predicting the end of the State. There natives have been seen to offer insults to the European agents; officers of the Companies have lodged complaints as to the arrogant attitude of part of the population subject to certain influences; a tendency to shake off the duty due to the State, and to repudiate respect for our laws, has manifested itself among them. It is not doubtful that here we see the result of the underhand intrigues sapping, more or less intentionally, the legal authority. The remark inevitably follows that this position reveals itself solely in the neighbourhood of some evangelical posts, and it assumes a more significant character when it is known that the tendency of these establishments is to exercise over the surrounding population a sort of sovereign power, in opposition to Boula Matari, thereby creating a state of antagonism between the influence of the mission houses and the authority of the State agents. I have pointed out for the attention of the Government this grave position, and the measures that it ought to take if it continues. Already local agents have been obliged to act on their own initiative to safeguard the State's authority, and if it becomes necessary the Governor-General will consider the occasion for making use of the means placed at his disposal by the decree of 15th September, 1889, for dealing with foreigners who should employ against the State their influence over the natives.
It would be desirable that an appropriation be provided to carry out the plan at present under examination, of establishing on the Upper Congo a number of civil courts and a second Court of Appeal.
In my opinion the Government ought to go farther in the way of developing our judicial machinery. A point which has not ceased to attract attention is, in the first place, the recruiting of the staff. Whatever may be the goodwill of the judicial agents, it is beyond doubt that some newcomers have not always possessed, before their entrance into our judiciary, a sufficiently long experience of judicial practice. I here renew the wish, already expressed, to hear that judges of Belgian courts and parquets be authorised to obtain leave of absence to occupy judicial posts in the Congo.


The spirit in which this recommendation by the Vice-Governor-General was received in Belgium is clearly indicated in the following announcement on behalf of the Minister of Justice at Brussels :

The Minister of Justice has just authorised Belgian magistrates who may be desirous to do so, and be accepted by the Congo Free State, to undertake, by a limited engagement, to serve as judges in the Congo, - and for that purpose, to obtain leave of absence without pay, save that their rights of seniority in the Belgian magistracy are to be reserved. ...
The Congo has been for us a field of heroism. It has enabled numerous Belgians, who were smothering within their frontiers, to prove their value in a much broader sphere, where territorial, political, and diplomatic conditions permitted some display of their inborn qualities, and to reveal themselves first-class pioneers, soldiers and administrators.
If considered only from an ideal point of view, the advantage is well worth something. And those of our officers who out there have put down slavery, pacified the native tribes, opened the ways of navigation, commerce, and industry, created agricultural stations, depots, railways, forest exploitations, and roads will surely from this point of view alone have rendered our little country as much service as they could have rendered it in the service of our garrisons.
It has often been said that narrow frontiers mean narrow ideas. To broaden our horizon, is to broaden our ideas. It seems to us that without going beyond these considerations, this decision taken by our Department of Justice deserves to be commended.
Without any burden on our Treasury on that account, - since the Belgian judges serving in the Congo will, during the term of their service, cease to draw upon our budget, - our magistracy will be losing nothing of their value, so justly appreciated, by delegating a few of their members - selected from the youngest - in those new regions where their knowledge of law, coming into more direct contact than at home with nature and practical needs, will acquire renewed strength at the very springs of equity and juridical conscience.
At the same time, their authoritative participation in the colonial undertaking will contribute to do away with the very suspicion of those abuses which, after being systematically exaggerated by interested opponents, have been used as a pretence for this deplorable Congophobe campaign which has led in England a few minds more generous than enlightened.
Fortified in this manner, the Congolese magistrates, who even now worthily bear comparison with any colonial magistracy, will, by the mode of their recruitment, and their own merit, command respect from our adversaries.
They will be continually renewed, which is advisable in these tropical regions, where the conditions of climate very soon exhaust individuals, and the new and continued relations which will thus progressively spring up between Belgium at home and it's African extension will contribute to force into our colonial undertaking the best part of our traditions and of our national spirit.
It would be also useful if the ambulatory character attributed by Comngolese law to the Courts of First Instance were made more effective, by rendering it an obligation for these courts to move about periodically throughout the extent of their province, to sit regularly at important centres, and to betake themselves to all points to which the necessities of their presence required them to proceed. This object might be easily attained, if only there were placed at the disposal of the magistrates the material means - with regard to transport, provisions and lodging - that the frequency of these movements on circuit might call for.
I would also recommend a new measure which would consist in establishing in the different jurisdictions a corps of special agents who should be remunerated by the Government, and whose mission would be to discharge in the interests of the natives the role of barristers. At present it is to the magistrates themselves that the native addresses himself in order to obtain the necessary counsel for the protection of his rights. It would be preferable that those who may be called upon to lay down the law on a conflict of civil right, should not fill also the post of being counsel to one of the parties. On the other hand, from the penal point of view the measure that I propose would permit of professional defenders being assured to the accused. This institution, which it would be necessary to render of as general application as possible in the Upper as in the Lower Congo, would thus take place on the spot, at the disposition of those natives who thought they had ground of complaint, gratuitous defenders of their interests.
Indeed it would be useful to constitute in Belgium a Court of Cassation to which the sentences and definite judgments in penal matters which might possibly be contrary to the law should be submitted. Such a court might be composed of members of the Belgian Court of Cassation, or of the Appeal Courts admitted to the grade of emeritus, or actually practising.
It will certainly seem natural that these different opportunities of cooperating in the Congolese work should be given to the Belgian magistracy. Belgium would see therein, as it seems to me, the occasion of drawing closer the links of a moral nature which already unite it to it's future colony, and the misssion not without distinction which Belgian officers have fulfilled and are fulfilling in Africa would find it's complement in the collaboration of jurists of merit who can be counted in our country in great numbers.








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