European Union External Action

EU-UN work jointly to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict

19/06/2019 - 15:38
News stories

“In parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is the first time in history that trials have been held in open court.... For the first time, the people in these areas saw offenders considered as untouchable punished by the law. This has led to renewed confidence and a sense of security for the population,” says Mr Muntazini, a prosecutor for the Special Penal Court in the Central African Republic, expressing his gratitude for the EU-UN project that has helped the authorities in enforcing the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Sexual Violence ©2018 European Union (photo by Anouk Delafortrie)

On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, the European Union and the United Nations join their voices to call on the international community to accelerate its efforts to eliminate the scourge of all forms of sexual violence, including as a strategy and tactic of war and terror.

 

Restoring faith in justice in DRC - an example of EU-UN efforts to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict

Respect for the rule of law and public trust in an independent judiciary are crucial elements for building a healthy democracy. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an armed conflict costing millions of lives over the last three decades has weakened the country’s justice system.

The sheer number of crimes committed has overwhelmed the Congolese justice system, beset by a lack of expertise in investigating offences and carrying out successful prosecutions. The fighting leaves some regions isolated, and the victims and witnesses unprotected from armed attackers. This in turn undermines public trust and confidence in the authorities’ ability to render justice.

In response, the European Union provided support for the creation of Prosecution Support Units. These Units aim to help the civil and military authorities in bringing perpetrators of serious offences, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, homicide and sexual violence, to justice.

For too long, a culture of impunity in much of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has enabled both security forces and armed groups to harm civilians. Both sides have been accused of sexual violence and rape, but few offenders have been identified or prosecuted. Sexual violence is often used as a strategy of war, to humiliate and demoralise enemies and destroy the social fabric. It has a devastating impact on communities where women are often alone with their children.

The project has helped to reinforce a justice system that lacked the resources, experience or technical expertise to prosecute perpetrators. “The goal is to restore social cohesion, public confidence In justice and give the victims and communities back their dignity,” explains Olivier Tshibola, programme analyst for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Building on an earlier phase of the initiative launched in 2011, the project set out to establish or support seven Prosecution Support Units in North Kivu (Goma and Beni), South Kivu (Bukavu), Katanga (Lubumbashi and Kalemie) and the Eastern Province (Kisangani and Bunia).

Each Prosecution Support Unit brings together criminal prosecutors, experienced police investigators and international experts within a so-called consultation framework. Supported by the EU, this consultation framework involves the United Nations Organisation Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), UNDP, non-governmental organisations and other technical and financial partners.

 

ending impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict
ending impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict
Trained defence and prosecution lawyers take part in the mobile court’s hearing in South Kivu

 

While the project has helped the authorities in enforcing the rule of law and respect for human rights, “one of the benefits has been the link between the military and civil systems,” emphasises Alain Decoux, EU Programme Manager based in Kinshasa.

“Military justice was more developed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the past, but we have reinforced the strength of civil justice.” Instead of competition, there is now a culture of cooperation between the two systems.

The project has changed the way the justice system works, says Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa, a former military prosecutor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and now prosecutor for the Special Penal Court in the Central African Republic: “The Prosecution Support Units have led to a better approach in the investigation of cases.”

A prioritisation mechanism makes it possible to select and pursue important cases. There is more efficient planning and coordination, involving multidisciplinary teams of investigators, pooling of available resources and using techniques such as phone tapping. Mr. Tshibola explains that protecting victims and witnesses from alleged perpetrators, often powerful and armed, was a major challenge. An additional challenge is the isolation of remote regions where massacres took place. Despite a shortage of resources, the project set up new mechanisms for the protection of victims and witnesses, enabling them to feel safer in coming forward to testify, he says.

Mr Muntazini explains that these improvements benefit both victims and accused. “The investigation is more impartial,” he says. The training of defence lawyers leads to fairer trials, while monitoring and debriefing after court sessions allow gaps to be identified and better anticipated, he adds. Mobile courts enable victims to see justice at work, and the involvement of NGOs in military proceedings has been decisive.

 
ending impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict
ending impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict
A statement being made to the mobile military court in Kalehe Territory, South Kivu

 

“In parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is the first time in history that trials have been held in open court,” he adds. “For the first time, the people in these areas saw offenders considered as untouchable punished by the law. This has led to renewed confidence and a sense of security for the population.”

In conclusion Mr Tshibola states “Many victims have had their rights restored while several killers are now in detention, sending a clear message to all parties in the conflict.”

 

For the mothers of the victims, the relief was enormous. “God bless those who led the initiative to stop the killings. We could not have done it alone,” said one. Two of her 12 children were abducted. “Even if we are very poor, security and peace are enough for us “I went crazy after the rape of my child,” said another. “I had lost hope. Thanks to psychological support, I was able to resume living my life. The people who support us continue to care – without them, we would not have had this justice.” Victims and their families received medical care and counselling, as well as help to reintegrate children back into school. “Before, we spent the night watching. Today we can close our eyes because there is justice.”
 
Main Photo: ©2018 European Union (photo by Anouk Delafortrie)