Congo: Improving Legal Services for Survivors of Sexual and Gender-based Violence
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 4:25 PM

Significant obstacles await survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) who seek justice in Kalonge, a district located near Lake Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Barriers to justice include the distance of courthouses from Kalonge, the fact that many victims are unaware of their legal rights, little sympathy regarding SGBV issues from legal officials, and cultural norms that do not support speaking out on such issues.
In light of these challenges, the International Medical Corps, the American Bar Association, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Clifford Chance collectively implemented a project in 2011 to make more resources available to survivors of SGBV. The most innovative way that the program seeks to do this is through mobile courts, which are set up in local communities so that SGBV survivors can access justice without making the long, difficult journey to the courthouses. Other goals of the project include training legal officials on the new SGBV laws passed in the DRC in 2006, encouraging survivors to seek justice through prosecution where appropriate, and raising awareness for women’s rights and their legal foundations. 
The program has achieved measurable success, prosecuting 11 cases in mobile courts, with seven convictions, and a further 25 cases in neighboring Bunyakiri. These prosecutions represent a major step toward offender accountability. Dr. Picasso Mozusa Mukome, Chief of the Kalonge Health Zone, spoke of the project’s merit in deterring potential offenders: “Because of this legal project, young men are afraid of justice if they attack women.”