SMS-Based Case-Filing Platform Facilitates Police-Prosecution Collaboration, Boosts Fight against Impunity

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August 2014

An SMS case-filing platform the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) developed for law enforcement officers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu Province is helping to combat impunity for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), according to a local police commander. Josaphat Mutayongwa, deputy battalion commander of the Special Police for the Protection of Women and Children in the province, said, “In the past, rural police stations, especially the specialized units of the police in charge of investigating SGBV cases, had serious problems in reporting in a timely and efficient manner [to] the prosecutor’s office in Goma.”

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The new SMS system, which enables police and prosecutors to share information and requests, will eventually allow citizens to contact either police or prosecutors in their area.

In October 2013, ABA ROLI partnered with the special police and the prosecutor’s office to identify the causes of those communication and collaboration breakdowns that hampered justice. The assessment revealed that the majority of reported SGBV cases were not adequately investigated because police could not reach the scene. Further, those cases that were investigated were rarely shared with the prosecutor’s office in Goma due to inadequate coordination and the lack of a means of communication. These challenges led to infrequent prosecutions, feeding a culture of impunity and leading perpetrators to believe that they would never be held accountable.

In response, in February 2014, ABA ROLI developed an innovative digital case-filing system, combining logistical transportation support (including five all terrain motorcycles and an SUV) with the creative application of SMS-based communications technology, to facilitate case investigation and filing. The new system, which enables police and prosecutors to share information and requests, will eventually allow citizens to contact either police or prosecutors in their area. Pointing out that the system has improved police-prosecutor coordination, Commander Mutayongwa said that the platform was “a response to a real need concerning the lack or shortage of communication between rural police stations and the prosecutor’s office.” He added that judicial police officers can now alert the prosecutor’s office directly and in real time of crimes committed in their respective regions.

Judicial police officers are required to inform the prosecutor’s office and to transfer files within 24 hours after they receive an SGBV case report. Mutayongwa says that the digital platform is helping the police meet this requirement. It has also empowered police to further investigate pending cases. “Thanks to the SMS case-filing platform, the Masisi district prosecution office has collected additional evidence in four sexual violence cases after receiving SMS reports from [judicial police officers],” said Mutayongwa.

Supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the initiative has been well received by both the judicial police and the prosecutor’s office. Mutayongwa said, “I believe ABA ROLI has shown it is possible to tackle serious problems of the justice sector in remote areas in [the Democratic Republic of Congo].”

To learn more about our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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