The Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice (WI) is an international women’s human rights organization that advocates for gender justice within peace processes and accountability for conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes (SGBCs) through domestic courts and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
WI works with women and communities most affected by armed conflicts and we have strategically focused our work in countries with situations under ICC investigation in order to leverage the international efforts with simultaneous work for domestic responses to conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes (SGBCs).
Our work within the Democratic Republic of the Congo
WI has been working in eastern DRC since 2006. We began with documenting conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes and have since expanded our programmes and partnerships across three provinces – North Kivu, South Kivu and Province Orientale. With over 145 local members (organisations and networks) and five provincial and thematic focal points, WI is deeply committed to and embedded in working with local communities in response to the ongoing militarized violence and conflict situation in eastern DRC.
Our methodology is to partner with local women’s rights advocates and organisations to design and implement grassroots programmes advocating for peace, accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes, better responses for victims/survivors and a deeper understanding of the impact of conflict on women and girls.
Our current programmes include: documenting conflict-related SGBCs for the purpose of supporting and advocating for prosecutions for these crimes before the ICC and domestic courts; a Transit House Project supporting over 800 SGBV victims/survivors per year to access medical and psychosocial support of whom 85% require and receive surgeries for rape-related injuries; advocacy events and screenings of our gender-justice documentary – Our Voices Matter – with decision-makers, justice-sector actors, cultural leaders, conflict-affected communities and victims/survivors; and advocacy with national decision-makers, government ministries, parliamentarians, the Presidential Adviser on Conflict-related Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment to promote gender justice.
South Kivu Strategic Accountability Project
According to the most recent report by the United Nations (UN) Secretary General on conflict-related sexual violence for the period January-December 2015, the UNFPA recorded 1,900 cases of conflict-related sexual violence by armed perpetrators in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces, as well as the former provinces of Orientale and Katanga. Of the cases verified by MONUSCO, the majority of perpetrators were allegedly from armed groups (74%) with government security forces allegedly responsible for 26 % of confirmed incidents. FARDC soldiers were the main perpetrators identified on the side of the Government, with members of the national police identified as the alleged perpetrators in a smaller number of incidents. UNHCR data identified South Kivu as the province most affected by conflict-related sexual violence in 2015.
Many of the perpetrators of sexual violence remain active in the conflict and the ongoing impunity gap is believed to embolden perpetrators and reduce the motivation for victims to report such incidents.
Many actors are responding to these issues. In December 2015, the President of the DRC delivered a national address in which he pledged zero tolerance for sexual violence, and his Adviser on Conflict-related Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment launched a campaign to improve victims’ access to justice and services. In March 2015, FARDC inaugurated a commission to oversee its action plan against sexual violence. In 50 conflict-related sexual violence trials, 109 members of the security forces were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of between 1 and 20 years.
Despite some signs of progress, conflict-related sexual violence remains prevalent.
Strategic Accountability Project (SAP)
In 2017, WI is launching a new strategic accountability project in South Kivu to support greater accountability for conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes through training and support for key actors in the justice process – police, prosecutors and judges – in pre-selected courts and territories.
Between 2014-2016, WI conducted a literature review and undertook an extensive mapping and consultation process with local partners and women’s rights organisations. From this process, WI and partners identified courts to focus on over the next three years of this pilot project. Both military and civil courts were selected reflecting the statistics that perpetrators of conflict-related SGBCs are soldiers, militia combatants, members of the security services as well as civilians.
The courts selected for this project are: two military courts (Tribunaux militaires de garnison) located in Uvira and Bukavu which exercise their jurisdiction in nine conflict-affected territories (Bukavu, Fizi, Idjwi, Kabare, Kalehe, Mwenga, Shabunda, Uvira, and Walungu); and two civil courts (Tribunaux de Grande Instance – TGIs) located in Uvira and Kavumu covering five conflict-affected territories (Uvira and Fizi, Idjwi, Kalehe and Kabare).. Of these combined territories, the project will focus primarily on conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes committed in the territories of Kabare, Kalehe, Uvira, and Fizi.
Justice personnel at the TGI of Bukavu, military court of appeal (Cour militaire), located in Bukavu, as well as the civil court of appeal (Cour d’Appel) will also be invited to participate in the training activitites.
These courts were selected based on a number of criteria, including that they are: located in areas with a high prevalence of conflict-related SGBCs; accessible for WI partners to conduct documentation missions and include areas where we have held missions in the past; areas with health clinics for referral for victims/survivors; and locations with sufficient security to facilitate visits.
Between 21 November and 15 December 2016, WI is conducting consultations with prosecutors and judges assigned to these selected courts as well as police stationed in the territories served by the selected courts. These consultations are to enable WI to identify and learn more about the specific challenges, barriers and opportunities in these territories to strengthen domestic accountability for conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes. By examining each stage of the investigation, prosecution and adjudication process, the consultations will serve to identify key issues to tackle in order to ultimately strengthen access to and outcomes for victims of these crimes. Consultations will also involve other justice sector personnel outside of the selected courts and territories to solicit input from a wide range of critical actors in these fields. The consultations will be held in Bukavu and Uvira.
WI is distributing questionnaires tailored for each critical actor (police, prosecutors and judges) to solicit their experience, challenges and approaches to investigating, prosecuting or adjudicating these crimes. This stage of the project will also include consulting with those who interact with the security and justice sectors, specifically civil society organisations which advocate for SGBV victims. We are highly interested in their experience of the justice system and the barriers victims experience when seeking redress for the sexual and gender-based crimes. We will also consult with organisations which have provided training for the justice and security sector to learn and benefit from their experiences in the design of the training programmes. We are aware that some security and justice sector personnel have received a lot of training whilst others are yet to benefit from these opportunities.
Training and more…
Following these consultations, WI and its training partners (local and international experts), will design tailor-made training workshops for each of the security and justice actors associated with the selected military and civil courts. The training workshops will be held in 2017 and 2018 and the training partners in this phase of the project will include the UK Team of Experts for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and the International Association of Women Judges.
By focusing on the key personnel in the selected courts we are trying to develop a model responsive to the context and specific challenges at each stage of the justice process (reporting, investigations, prosecutions, adjudications, judgments and sentencing) and in the selected territories in order to find solutions and to support progress towards greater accountability for conflict-related SGBCs.
One of the distinguishing features of this project is that beyond the training aspect, there will be:
- a support process for trainees including follow up workshops;
- a joint symposium for all those trained;
- local advocacy and monitoring by Women’s Initiatives local partners of the investigations and cases before the selected courts;
- support for the project from local partners who will undertake conflict-related SGBV documentation missions and assist with liaising between the victims of these crimes and the police for the reporting and investigation phases; and
- an initial assessment at the end of the first three years to assess the progress in each of the selected courts.