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January 01, 2009

ABA ROLI Expands its Programming in the DRC

January 2009

The Dutch government recently awarded the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) a $5.2 million grant that will dramatically expand its work on combating gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Currently, ABA ROLI programming on gender-based violence in North Kivu Province is supported by a U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) grant, while the three-year Dutch grant will expand the program to Maniema Province. Both programs focus on improving access to justice for victims of sexual violence and increasing the capacity of police, prosecutors and judges to combat pervasive impunity in rape cases. ABA ROLI’s DRL-funded program has been directly responsible for a surge in rape convictions in and around the city of Goma in North Kivu, where ABA ROLI maintains an office.

Under this Dutch-funded program, ABA ROLI will collaborate with provincial courts, the Ministry of Justice and judges to implement a comprehensive training and infrastructure support program. The program will address every level of the criminal justice system, from village-level institutions to the highest provincial court. Victims of gender-based violence who file criminal complaints in court will receive pro bono representation by attorneys at legal aid clinics that ABA ROLI will help establish. Moreover, all costs associated with filing cases against perpetrators of sexual violence will be supported by a victim and witness support fund. To reach particularly remote regions and thereby expand the reach of the program, ABA ROLI will establish temporary “mobile courts” in four districts across Maniema province, all of which will be overseen by judges who are authorized to sentence suspected rapists to prison. These mobile courts will provide rape victims the opportunity to provide testimony in the prosecution of cases that would almost certainly not otherwise be prosecuted. Another aspect of the program is the creation of a scholarship program for women to study law and the creation of an internship program at ABA ROLI’s legal aid clinics. Graduates of the scholarship program will be encouraged to become justice sector professionals. It is hoped that by increasing the number of females among these ranks, gender-based crimes will be more effectively prosecuted.

“This grant is a real breakthrough for ABA ROLI, as it will allow us to expand our efforts to address DRC’s rape crisis in Maniema, a remote province that has received very little outside assistance,” said ABA ROLI Deputy Director Michael Maya, “This generous grant from the Dutch government represents the largest non-U.S. government grant ABA ROLI has ever received. Notably, the Dutch government had a chance to study the impact of our work in Goma before selecting ABA ROLI to undertake the Maniema project, so this new award is, above all else, a testament to the caliber of the work of our staff in the Goma office.”

Finally, MacArthur Foundation recently notified ABA ROLI that it will fund a proposed project to combat gender-based violence in Butembo, a city north of Goma. ABA ROLI expects to open an office in Butembo in the coming months.