DRC: Judicial Audit Review Reveals Urgent Need for Institutional Reforms

When legal frameworks established to punish and/or rehabilitate perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence fall short, performance reviews, analysis and appropriate strategies need to be devised as a response mechanism. The shortfall can therefore be identified to embolden the efforts to end impunity for SGBV.

The judicial audit review, held on 23 June 2009 in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo was one such opportunity. This review aimed to engage policy-makers on the challenges and new strategies needed to effectively address what ACORD refers to as the ‘hidden war crimes'.

The review was attended by more than 60 participants, mostly from the DRC with other representatives from Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The contributors are central points in gender issues, security sector, financial institutions, UN agencies and International courts. Others included national and provincial administrators and other experts in the fields working to address sexual and gender-based violence.

During the event held at the Hotel Faden House in Kinshasa, key institutions represented include United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the programme for the Restoration of Justice in the East of the DRC (REJUSCO), School for Training of Judicial Police Officers (EFOPJ) and the International Conference on Peace-Building and Security in the Great Lakes (CIPSGL). The meeting also served as an opportunity to officially launch the Netherlands-funded MDG3 project by ACORD in the DRC.

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Children in the DRC was represented by Madame Mabila (Director, Legal Section). She recalled the commitments by the Ministry to stem the vice involving gender-based abuses. In her speech, she firmly advocated for radical steps needed to respond to SGBV in the DRC, in order to restore women's dignity.

Representing UNFPA, Madame Mireille Ikoli used various statistics to bring home the sobering realities surrounding SGBV in the DRC during 2008. Focusing on the Eastern region of the DRC where UNFPA is implementing gender programmes, she showed that more than nine thousand cases of gender-based crimes had been reported in North Kivu, South Kivu and Eastern Province in 2008 alone.

"Many cases reported between January and September 2008 involved women and girls raped, tortured, sexually assaulted or harmed through other forms of violence. More than 25% have pointed fingers at the armed forces", she confirmed to the participants.

Tshangu District, with a population of 2.3 million (almost one third of the Kinshasa population) was singled out by ACORD's DRC programme as a hotspot with records showing rampant cases of atrocities committed against women and girls as impunity and lack of accountability becomes a culture. Audits in the DRC zeroed in on specific groups of social service providers such as legal police officers, known in French as Officiers de Police Judiciaires (OPJ), magistrates, health care personnel and health institutions, NGOs as well as survivors of sexual and gender-based crimes.

The Legal Police Officers Training School (EFOPJ) was represented in the review by its Director Colonel Ambroise Langa who informed the participants that the institution had already trained 347 officers, out of whom 293 would serve the Congolese National Police, 22 would function within the legal police administration and 16 working with the General Management of Migrations. One other trainee has been slotted for posting at the National Congolese Radio and Television station.

The results showed a need for stronger capacity development for the OPJ group and magistrates. It also stressed the need to provide financial and material support to justice and health care personnel. The need to increase the number of women in the police force was seen as one among many measures to promote commitment and positive response to reported cases of crimes committed against women. Late response to reports of abuses and slow legal procedures, socio-cultural practices and taboos, and stigmatisation were among the major impediments to reportage.

Despite the increase in violence based on sexual and gender biases during times of conflict, we find that records are almost non-existent. Even today, any documentation of such atrocities remains disparate and far outmatched by the realities", says Madame Lucie Nyamarushwa of ACORD Burundi who also attended the meeting.

Colonel Toussaint Mutanzini, a representative from the Military High Court in the DRC discussed the consequences of sexual and gender-based violence within the context of health and highlighted the negative impact on development indicators. He noted that with the adoption of the Rome Statute in 2002, sexual and gender-based crimes were categorised as crimes against humanity in the Constitution of 18 February 2006.

"As a result, we have four legal clauses that have been modified or integrated into this category, laying out the necessary actions to be taken to prevent abuses and impunity for SGBV", explained Colonel Toussaint. The Participants learnt that an SGBV case study had been conducted by the Colonel between 2005 and 2006 in the Equateur Region of the DRC. This was the first direct application of the Rome Statute within the Congolese Military system to address crimes involving mass rapes committed by Congolese armed forces.

ACORD Gender managers and partners from the four other countries that are part of this sub regional project led discussions on the judicial audit findings from the five targeted countries. This was part of a larger process aimed at tackling SGBV holistically, by involving both decision-makers and those affected by policies, regulations and social structures.

 By collating comprehensive data and research on the legal frameworks and supporting institutions in their response to SGBV in these five countries, ACORD hopes to progressively inform work towards ending impunity for gender-based crimes and strengthen protection for women and girls at the local, national and regional levels.

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Related articles:
The Hidden War Crimes: Launching the Regional Gender Programme

Developing Stronger Protection against SGBV - IPS

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  • violence against women