Tackling impunity in DRC

©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP
©Peter Muller/AP

For the past 15 years, the world has watched in horror as women in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been subjected to a reign of terror and mass sexual violence by a variety of armed groups, including the Congolese army, rebels and militias. With no law and order – indeed no functioning state – in much of the east, the perpetrators of these atrocious crimes have been able to act with impunity. This impunity has also fostered an alarming increase recently in the rate of civilian rapes.

While MONUSCO has able to offer a modicum of security in some areas and while the international community has spent substantial sums on rebuilding the judicial system in the east, there has been no real impact on the ground – women continue to be raped in their thousands, men continue to rape without fear.

But in February 2011, there was a glimmer of hope – when Lt. Colonel Kibibi and 8 of his officers and troops were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for their involvement in a mass rape in the town of Fizi on New Year’s Day. The arrest and trial of Kibibi indicated a growing political and military will in South Kivu Province to tackle widespread sexual violence and bring the perpetrators to book. It also highlighted the largely unacknowledged successes of the mobile gender court project in South Kivu.

Run by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative and funded by OSISA, the mobile gender courts have already heard 250 cases since October 2009 resulting in 195 convictions – 80 percent of which are for sexual crimes, mainly rape.

There is no doubt that the mobile gender court project is having an impact – by showing justice being done and by chipping away at the pervading sense of impunity around sexual crimes.

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