The Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice (WI) and our partners in eastern DRC collaborate in monitoring the work of domestic and international courts in the investigation and prosecution of conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes.

Within the DRC, the focus is on monitoring local courts including the mobile courts, especially in North Kivu, which prosecute militia combatants and members of the Congolese Armed Forces for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The monitoring activities include: advocating for and assisting SGBV victims through the justice process; liaising with Court Officials; monitoring SGBV cases including the presentation of evidence and the judgments; and providing legal referrals and representation to SGBV victims.

Since 2015, this programme has monitored 33 cases of SGBV before six domestic courts in conflict-affected provinces. During this period, the programme provided assistance and support through the legal proceedings for 34 SGBV victims. Just under 40% of the cases in which the programme was involved resulted in a conviction of the perpetrator(s) for crimes of sexual violence.

In December 2016, one of our programme-partners, Ligue pour la Solidarité Congolaise (LSC) conducted research on the legal fees charged by the Courts in Goma, North Kivu. These are fees charged to everyone who wishes to make a compliant or bring a case to court. The research found that the Courts were charging above the legal fee-level set by the provincial authorities. In finding that the legal tariff is not respected by the courts, LSC is advocating for the authorities to exercise greater oversight of the fees charged by the Courts and to ensure that the tariff is compiled with. Legal fees is one of the structural barriers which prohibits or deters women from pursuing cases of sexual violence through the justice system.

Between January-March 2017, one of our partners in Province Orientale, Centre d’Education et Recherche pour les Droits des Femmes (CERDF) undertook research of five courts and prosecution services in Kisangani. They found that although the justice process is slow, the Courts are functioning. With this finding, CERDF is now raising awareness about the positive functioning of the courts in order to restore confidence in the justice system by the community. Skepticism about the independence, impartiality and professionalism of the justice process is wide-spread and contributes to SGBV victims settling for informal compensation with the perpetrators of these crimes, rather than pursuing justice through the legal system.

Monitoring the domestic courts complements our other programmes including the: SGBV documentation programme; the Transit House Project; and advocacy for more accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes and better access to medical, psychosocial and legal services for victims of these crimes.