“The Time Has Come To Mobilize Real Political Will To Address CRSV In The DRC”

The use of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not a crime of the past. In 2020, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) documented 1,053 cases of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), affecting 675 women, 370 girls, 3 men and 5 boys. 177 were reported to have been perpetrated in the last year only. In 2022, a team of international experts on the DRC reported that “[the DRC] is experiencing conflicts of an exceptionally violent nature, involving instances of rape and sexual violence, while the State is struggling to provide all citizens with the protection to which they are entitled. These conflicts are fueled by hate speech and calls for violence and discrimination.” Such atrocities will continue until the crimes are met with comprehensive justice and accountability responses. Indeed, impunity for past atrocities is a risk factor and a predictor of future atrocities.

During the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) Conference in London (November 28-29), Dr Denis Mukwege, world-renowned gynecologist, human rights activist and Nobel Peace laureate from east Congo, spoke at a special session in the U.K. House of Lords about the need to ensure justice and accountability for the use of CRSV in the DRC.

As Dr Mukwege indicated, for almost 30 years, the DRC has been torn apart by repeated wars of aggression and cycles of conflict that have led to one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises in the world, where the numbers of those killed, aped women and the displaced are in the millions. Dr Mukwege emphasized that “the culture of impunity is one of the main obstacles to the establishment of lasting peace in the DRC and the African Great Lakes region. Faced with the failure of security and political solutions to restore stability, it is time to explore the added value of all the mechanisms of transitional justice in the DRC (…) combining judicial and non-judicial mechanisms, which are complementary.” Unfortunately, as Dr Mukwege stressed, the DRC judicial system is not equipped to address the ongoing impunity for CRSV, having been undermined by corruption, political interference and a lack of independence.

During the special Parliamentary session, Dr Mukwege presented a comprehensive blueprint for legal steps to be taken to address the glaring impunity for CRSV in the DRC.

The blueprint includes the establishment of an International Criminal Tribunal for the Congo and/or specialized mixed chambers, ongoing engagement of the International Criminal Court, and States making full use of the principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute the perpetrators for their involvement in atrocities in the DRC.

The blueprint further includes the provision for reparations for victims and survivors of CRSV with the establishment of the National Reparations Fund. As Dr Mukwege stated, “among the various mechanisms of transitional justice, one of the main demands of victims and survivors is restorative justice. Reparation is a right and represents a measure of justice. It recognizes the harm inflicted and provides support to the victim to enable them to complete their healing process and rebuild their lives with dignity.”

Lastly, the blueprint provides for mechanisms ensuring the right to the truth, the National Commission for the Truth, to address narratives denying or distorting information about the atrocities. Dr Mukwege explained that such a mechanism “is about shedding light not only on the circumstances and reasons that led to the perpetration of atrocities but also on the root causes, structures and institutions that enabled or facilitated them. The establishment of the truth constitutes an essential guarantee against the repetition of violations.”

To assist with this crucial step in ensuring the right to the truth about gross human rights violations, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (the IBAHRI) and the Panzi Foundations are launching a truth and justice initiative in the DRC that aims to provide a platform for victims and survivors of sexual violence in the DRC to be able to talk about their experiences, pain and suffering, and to collect and preserve the testimonies as part of the nation’s history.

Such initiatives in the DRC are urgently needed, as past and ongoing use of CRSV in the DRC continues to be neglected. Legal steps such as these we have seen in response to the atrocities in Ukraine continue to be an exception. The ongoing impunity, as we witness in the DRC, is the sad reality victims and survivors have to face. States and the international community must be more proactive to address CRSV with a litany of legal steps at their disposal. They know what to do. They have seen these legal mechanisms being deployed, most recently in response to Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine. They owe it to victims and survivors of CRSV in the DRC and beyond.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2022/11/29/dr-denis-mukwege-the-time-has-come-to-mobilize-real-political-will-to-address-crsv-in-the-drc/