Source: Open Society Foundations
In many parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a rape victim has to walk for days or travel more than eight hours by car to get to the nearest court. For example, outside the city of Bukavu in South Kivu—a region that has the highest incidence of sexual violence in the world—there are no courts or magistrates who can hear cases. For those who persevere in filing a police report, justice is still often out of reach: local authorities have no capacity to investigate or prosecute such crimes. Because of this, tens of thousands of gender violence survivors have no meaningful access to justice.

In response, the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa partnered with the International Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative to establish a mobile court program focused on gender crimes. Since 2009, this effort has helped bring the rule of law to remote communities and serve some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Mobile courts already exist in the DRC to address a variety of crimes, but what distinguishes this court is that it specializes in gender issues.

For many victims—often women—it has been an incredible effort to even file a complaint. The process of having that complaint taken seriously by a court, and having an opportunity to tell their stories in public and be recognized officially, can be tremendously powerful. The mobile court also helps challenge the shame and rejection that many victims of gender violence face within their communities. By focusing attention on the perpetrators’ alleged wrongdoing, trials can help reverse some of the stigma gender violence survivors often endure.

The mobile court has jurisdiction over military, as well as civilian, justice systems. Under this program, Congolese judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers travel to some of the worst crime sites, typically locations that have never before had access to justice.  Cases are heard over a period of weeks or months, before the court moves to its next location. Gender justice cases to date have focused primarily on rape, but can also include such issues as land rights, divorce, and domestic violence. Since these communities do not normally have access to courts, justices have discretion to hear other cases, and have also addressed murder and torture. Often, the entire community turns out to attend the trials.

In its first six months of operation, the mobile gender justice court tried 115 cases in five different remote locales. Of the 68 people charged with gender-based violence, 51 people were convicted, receiving sentences ranging from three to twenty years.



Go to top