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March 01, 2008

Congolese Gender-Based Violence Program Takes on First Cases

March 2008

Mathieu Ndongo-Koni became Country Director of the new ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) office in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in January 2008. He leads the effort to establish a program to give survivors of sexual violence access to justice and to fight the impunity of offenders. Based on successful recent meetings with government authorities, Ndongo-Koni has already gotten a head start on the program’s goals: he has earned the confidence of the Minister of Justice, hired six staff, and helped the program begin its first two cases.

Widespread gender-based violence in DRC has been used as a weapon in the civil conflict affecting the country, especially in the provinces of South and North Kivu. Various armed groups operate in the villages bordering Rwanda and Uganda. The official statistics from the Ministry of Gender show some 5,000 female survivors of gender-based violence in 2007 in those provinces. These statistics illustrate the importance of ABA ROLI’s work on behalf of the human rights of survivors.

The greatest challenge to ABA ROLI’s work is to establish the office as an outpost for the government’s support. Helping government officials prioritize the problem of human rights violations, and encouraging them to support and actively sponsor the program, will be the key to success.

Despite this challenge, the program has already made strides toward its goals. Ndongo-Koni arrived in the DRC on January 17 and met with a variety of officials in Kinshasa even before settling into the ABA ROLI office in Goma. After meetings with the Minister of Justice and Minister of Gender, he received official confirmation that the government fully supports the project. The relevant ministers have provided Ndongo-Koni with their contact information in case he encounters difficulties while on the ground and in the field—an enormous advantage when working in a conflict situation.

The office hired six staff, including Mireille Amani, attorney & legal aid clinic manager. Ndongo-Koni has set up a formal partnership with the local Bar Association and Amani has been instrumental in registering the program's first two GBV cases. These cases were referrals to the legal aid clinic newly set up with support of Heal Africa—an organzation which runs a hospital in Eastern DRC known for assisting survivors of gender-based violence. Other referrals are expected through the advertising campaign being broadcast through local radios and churches.

In the upcoming months, Ndongo-Koni will be meeting with other NGOs to recruit legal assistance for survivors. And meetings with police and judges will be held to develop training curricula on sexual violence cases.