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November 11, 2016

INL and ABA ROLI Utilize Data Management to Strengthen Accountability for SGBV in the DRC

When it comes to increasing accountability and improving women’s access to justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), data management is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and its implementer – the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) – are utilizing data management for just that purpose. Since 2009, INL and ABA ROLI have worked to implement a program to support the Women’s Justice and Empowerment Initiative in the DRC. This program provides legal assistance and emotional support for the victims of sexual gender based violence (SGBV), promotes public awareness, and trains and advises criminal justice officials on how to make positive reforms to the legal system on this issue.

Justice sector officials in Eastern DRC receiving training on the use of the judicial database.

Through the Accountability Initiative, a collaboration between INL and the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, this data management project helps advance the U.S.’s commitment to protect and empower women in countries affected by conflict, violence, and insecurity.

INL and ABA ROLI are using daily application of data to improve judicial accountability. So far, the interest and engagement in the project shown by judicial actors in the DRC, including courts and judicial oversight bodies, has far exceeded expectations. The project also had strong champions within the justice system, including the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Minister of Justice, and a Supreme Court Judge, which has aided in moving the project forward.

The idea is as simple as it is powerful. When someone commits a sexual violence crime, accountability for that crime—making sure perpetrators are brought to justice and tried within a reasonable time—is bolstered when the police can immediately transfer information from the crime scene to the prosecutors. In turn, judicial transparency and efficiency increases when a corresponding online system shows in real time the progression of the case through the courts after it’s filed, including information on who is responsible for the case and its files at any given point in time.  

All too often in the DRC, it is difficult for victims and for central-level disciplinary bodies to get the information they need to hold perpetrators accountable. It is a country where transferring information from the police to prosecutors requires lengthy trips through precarious roads; where locating a case file requires cumbersome travel across a country the size of Western Europe with limited transportation infrastructure; or where knowing the right people is essential to getting the right information. In other words, DRC poses unique conditions that make tracking the results of the justice system’s performance next to impossible.   

Now that’s changing. The U.S.-funded judicial database contributes to accountability through a simple, data-based solution that radically improves the flow and accessibility of information, exposing poor performance and providing the evidence for corrective action.  

Seeing the value of the concept, members of the Superior Council of the Judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, and the Constitutional Court, are taking an active role promoting the use of the database in the DRC.

In coming months, INL and the ABA ROLI staff in the DRC will continue working with these committed champions to make sure the idea takes root and becomes sustainable. They will also provide computers and other equipment required for the database to reach more locations across the country, and will continue working with judicial practitioners in various field locations so that they can easily input information in the database. This project will show that data management is neither technical nor dry, but is a powerful enabler of better justice, more accountability, and stronger rule of law.