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May 25, 2016

Traditional Leaders Demonstrate Support to Paralegal Program

In Maniema, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the shortage of legal service providers and geographic constraints continue to put women at special risk of violence and abuse. With continuous support from the 11th-Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has been working to build the capacity of local organizations to address sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) over the past three years. ABA ROLI is currently working with Action Humanitaire pour la Paix et le Développement (AHUPADE) on the management of legal clinics and networks of community-based paralegals serving victims of sexual and gender-based violence throughout Maniema. The provision of legal services coupled with the intervention of community-based paralegal has proven to be effective in increasing access to justice for women and girls in the region, particularly in remote areas.

ABA ROLI-trained paralegals work closely with lawyers and psychologists to provide survivors with the support they need to seek justice.

In collaboration with our local partner, ABA ROLI trains community-based paralegals to provide basic legal services to local communities through dispute resolution, community mobilization, and awareness-raising aimed at creating a zero tolerance environment against sexual violence. These community-based paralegals also work closely with lawyers and psychologists to provide survivors with the support they need to seek justice.

ABA ROLI places great emphasis on community engagement and relationship building with traditional leaders to ensure the sustainability of our interventions. Traditional and religious leaders have voiced their support to our project, ensuring that those who ultimately have the final say over a dispute are fully engaged in the fight against SGBV. More recently, traditional leaders representing four different communities in Maniema’s Kibombo territory have written letters to ABA ROLI requesting additional training that would help them educate their communities even further on the law against sexual violence and women’s rights. Situku Kokale from Lusamba, Gaby Umba from Matapa, Mioma Lupungu from Aluba, and Mboelongo Kimwemwe from Bahina have sent letters addressed to ABA ROLI in Maniema requesting support. This showcases an important paradigm shift as community leaders who were initially reluctant to recognize formal laws are now willing to take up the role of champions in their communities to promote women’s rights. With their critical support, ABA ROLI hopes to create a safer environment for women and girls, and ultimately contribute to ending sexual violence that continues to plague the region.

Gaby Umba, one of the traditional leaders who wrote to ABA ROLI in May 2015, says that “An alarming number of sexual violence cases in my territory are being settled amicably to the detriment of victims. I believe traditional leaders can play an important role in fighting impunity and ensuring that victims have access to justice with proper assistance and guidance from ABA ROLI.”

To learn more about our work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].