Providing legal assistance
In January 2008, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), launched a legal aid clinic in Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province. Utilizing a multi-disciplinary approach, the clinic offers trauma counseling by a staff psychologist as well as medical care administered through our partner, HEAL Africa. ABA ROLI’s staff attorneys inform survivors of their rights and the judicial procedures afforded by Congolese law, assisting those who wish to proceed with a case. With funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the clinic continues to operate today.
With additional support from the Dutch government, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ABA ROLI currently operates or supports 19 legal aid clinics that serve survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Survivors, community leaders, civil society organizations, government institutions and international partners in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces have come to rely on these clinics for much-needed legal assistance. The majority of the clinics are housed in one-stop assistance centers that provide holistic legal, psychological, medical and socio-economic assistance for both sexual violence and non-sexual violence cases. We operate the centers in cooperation with local and international non-governmental organizations, including the Inter-Church Medical Alliance, International Medical Corps, Save the Children, CARE, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, Femme Engagées pour la Promotion de la Santé Intégrale and Dynamique des Femmes Juristes.
The clinics have greatly increased prosecution of SGBV crimes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by:
- providing legal assistance during trial;
- enhancing legal assistance to survivors of SGBV by training and equipping local attorneys who prepare and file court cases with the police and accompany survivors and witnesses before justice sector officials;
- securing transportation, meals and lodging for survivors and witnesses to travel to police stations, prosecutors’ offices and courts;
- working with local prison administration to ensure that perpetrators serve their sentences; and
- coordinating with local police to guarantee that monetary reparations to survivors are paid to the greatest extent possible.
Operating mobile courts
To increase access to justice in remote areas of the country, ABA ROLI facilitates the holding of mobile courts in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces, enabling prosecutors and judges based in the provincial capitals to travel to villages to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate SGBV cases. ABA ROLI helps secure basic transportation and lodging for survivors over the course of the trial and works with local bar associations to provide defense counsel to suspects. Most notably, ABA ROLI facilitated a military mobile court in February 2011 that tried and convicted Lieutenant Colonel Kibibi and eight of his subordinates for the New Year’s Day attacks in Fizi. Kibibi—the highest commanding officer ever tried and convicted for rape in the DRC—and his subordinates were each sentenced to 10–20 years in prison.
Using technology to enhance civilian protection
To enhance civilian protection in North Kivu and South Kivu, ABA ROLI has initiated a DRL-funded early warning system. The system alerts authorities to potential threats or outbreaks of violence in the remote areas of Walikale and Fizi. Information collected through the system is monitored using an online map that is available to assistance providers and government officials and that enables them to identify violent locations and to coordinate responses. In addition, in North Kivu, ABA ROLI is using mobile satellite Internet service to pilot video conferencing that allows rural police to obtain medical rape certificates issued remotely and to increase coordination on SGBV cases between rural police and the Goma-based prosecutor’s office.