Congolese soldiers in Rutshuru, close to Goma in eastern DR Congo. Police officers, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, professionals and NGOs have received training on sexual and gender-based violence.
Photo: Lionel Healing/AFP/Scanpix
The fight against sexual and gender based violence in eastern DR Congo
In recent years, media has repeatedly drawn attention to appalling abuse of women in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Reports describe mass rape of women, children and old people, in many cases combined with torture, the spread of HIV and AIDS or severe physical and psychological damage among victims. In addition, the severe social impact on families, entire villages and communities has to be added.
According to international law, rape can in many cases be classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity. Research shows that violence also is directed at men, and that it often is a result of the great frustration that soldiers, policemen and members of armed groups are experiencing in the extended conflict. It is rooted in conflicts over land rights, ethnic groups and - not least - the control of the rich mineral resources of the area. Nevertheless, it causes extremely grave consequences for the entire population in the conflict-affected provinces of Orientale, North and South Kivu.
Since 2009, Sida is supporting a specific effort against sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in these provinces. The operation started as a part of Rejusco, a large program within the justice sector funded by the European Commission and several EU member states. The Rejusco program has now ended, but because of the positive results, the fight against SGBV will continue as part of another program focusing on increased access to justice run by UNDP in the same area. In total, Sida's support in 2009-2010 is 23.6 million SEK.
Several target groups
Police officers, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, professionals and NGOs have received training on sexual and gender-based violence. They also get practical help such as transportation of victims, witnesses and accused persons. As one manager at a small, remote police station said:
"The training we have received has been so practical and useful for our work. Before the project started, we had to arrange transports by truck for those involved so that there could be a trial held in the provincial capital. Now, people see that Rejusco’s car is driving around, and that impunity is reduced. It has a preventive effect."
The project has trained people who can in turn continue to spread the experience in both the military and the civil justice system. In many cases it is a better solution that the Court goes out to remote villages in order to deal with several court cases at once. Then the project provides support both before and during the trials relating to sexual and gender-based violence, and may at the same time influence attitudes towards sexual violence and gender equality.
Within the project, researchers have made an anthropological study that shows how the traditional justice system handles SGBV, and the results are important for the entire judicial system to function better in the area. Another result of the program is that all reports of SGBV are followed up through the judicial system. That way you get a picture of where and why the process stops, and whether the same type of crime is treated differently in different instances. This can also be an effective tool against the widespread corruption within the judiciary.