DRC: Denial of justice for the victims of sexual crimes
KINSHASA, Dem. Rep. of Congo (DRC) December 4, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), victims of sexual crimes are facing insurmountable obstacles to obtain justice and reparation. The cost of proceedings is prohibitive and judicial decisions are hardly implemented. This is the damaging picture described in a report FIDH and its member organisations in DRC are publishing today, following several missions in that country.
For 20 years now, DRC has been the theatre of a conflict characterised by crimes of sexual violence of incredible magnitude and unprecedented brutality, amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes. All combatants use this violence as a weapon of war to enslave victims and terrorise the population.
“Women's bodies have become another battlefield. Hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, from young girls to older women. All women have been impacted,” lamented Julienne Lusenge, President of SOFEPADI.
Victims of sexual violence are particularly stigmatised. They are often rejected by their family and community. They need enormous courage and determination to file their case before the courts in an attempt to break the cycle of impunity.
“In addition to the trauma and having to deal with a society that points the finger at them, rape victims must overcome exorbitantly expensive legal proceedings. These legal costs are, however, mandatory for these matters to be concluded properly”, explained Sylvain Lumu, Executive Secretary of the League of Electors.
At each stage of the proceedings, victims must pay court costs and other large sums of money to the Congolese administration so that investigations and prosecutions may be conducted effectively. Even the certificate of indigence, which reduces some of the expenses of the proceedings, costs between US$25 and US$50. In a country where 67% of the population lives on less than US$2.00 per day, paying this sum is simply not possible. Without this certificate, and as a preliminary condition for any reparation, victims must systematically advance 6% of the total amount of the compensation decided in their favour in order to collect it. This prevents them from actually receiving any compensation.
“The international community must strengthen its support of structural reforms of the legal system and participate in defining a true reparation policy. Otherwise, the meaning of this support to the organisation of trials, whose judgements are not ultimately implemented, is to be questioned”, declared Dismas Kitenge, FIDH Vice President and President of the Lotus Group.
In front of the magnitude and gravity of these crimes, the international community supports the efforts of justice in the DRC and encourages the organisation of trials. Progress has been made, but the current proceedings only very rarely target the highest-ranking officials. Too many defendants remain free, even during trials. Too few judgements are final and effective. Our organisations have also observed that those who have been sentenced all too often manage to escape, and compensation that has been ordered for the victims are never paid. In the end, the victims of sexual crimes do not derive any benefit from justice in the DRC.
“The Congolese authorities must urgently adopt political and legal reforms to fight against the impunity of the perpetrators of crimes of sexual violence and facilitate effective access of victims of crimes of sexual violence to justice and reparation. These measures require that the domestic legal system be reformed and that hybrid chambers (national and international) be established to judge these crimes in DRC,” concluded Jean Claude Katende, President of ASADHO.