Kinshasa, DRC — Over the course of the past three years, the DRC has reduced incidents of sexual violence by half, from 15,000 cases in 2013 to 7,500 cases in 2015, according to a UN Security Council Preliminary Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.
From October 11 to 13, 2016, the DRC’s Office of the Personal Representative in Charge of the Fight against Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment held a conference in Kinshasa, in partnership with the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, MONUSCO and UNDP. In bringing together over 200 participants including Congolese government representatives, religious leaders, civil society organizations, victim advocate groups, local embassies, NGOs, and donors, the conference assessed progress made in the DRC, identified remaining challenges, and provided a forum for recommendations which are being used to establish a three year roadmap for national priorities (2017-2019).
“The DRC is our most successful story. It has been our laboratory and we will take what we’ve learned here and apply it in other places such as Iraq and South Sudan,” said Zainab Bangura, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She also applauded the Congolese government’s efforts to support the fight against sexual violence and congratulated the DRC’s Personal Representative on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment, Jeanine Mabunda, on her office’s successful implementation of various programs to support victims and reduce sexual violence.
“After three long years of tireless work, the results are now visible as the rate of cases of sexual violence has been cut in half. The United Nations is inspired by the DRC’s success story,” said Mrs. Bangura.
Mrs. Mabunda noted the strong political will of the Congolese government to continue to work towards zero tolerance for sexual violence in the DRC. She recognized the collaborative efforts of various partners, applauded their collective success, and issued a call to action, encouraging further cooperation to maximize impact on the ground.
After the conclusion of the conference, Mrs. Bangura and Mrs. Mabunda led a field mission to the eastern DRC, to Goma and Bukavu, to survey ongoing projects. In Bukavu, South Kivu province, the joint mission participated in the opening of a new police facility specifically established to better protect the rights of women and children. A spokesperson for the police department discussed the decline in cases reported, saying “For nearly two years, there has been a steady and significant decline in cases of sexual violence reported to the police in Bukavu: 484 cases in 2014, 255 cases in 2015 and from January to 14 October 2016, 154 cases. With this new building, we will be able to provide better protection to victims.”
Next, Mrs. Mabunda and her team traveled to Oïcha, North Kivu, approximately 40 km from Beni, where a series of six public hearings were being conducted by the Butembo Military Court from 15 to 21 October 2016.
Five convictions were secured against perpetrators of sexual violence. Penalties included prison sentences ranging from 2 to 7 years, payment of damages to victims, and the death penalty was issued in the case of a rape and subsequent murder of the victim. To support the demands of justice across the DRC, increasing numbers of female magistrates have been deployed to conflict-prone areas, particularly in the eastern regions of the country, to enhance the presence of women in the judicial system prosecuting cases of sexual violence.
The Office of the Personal Representative has worked closely with the Ministry of Defense to address impunity, working to secure convictions through the military justice system, and to initiate programs and reforms within the military to reduce instances of sexual violence. These initiatives have resulted in measurable change, and convictions of high ranking military officers for crimes of sexual violence have set a new precedent, demonstrating that accountability for all is a priority. From 2014 to 2015, 246 convictions were secured in cases of sexual violence, according to General Joseph Mutombo, who is leading the follow-up Commission on the FARDC Action Plan for the Fight against Sexual Violence. Those convicted included one General and three Colonels.
The Office of the Personal Representative continues to work in close partnership with UN Women and UNFPA on the Break the Silence! campaign, to change social behavior across the DRC, promoting dialogue and encouraging zero tolerance for sexual violence. The Office is now working with partners to expand the campaign to additional provinces and also to further support an emergency call center which allows victims to report perpetrators and provides them with information regarding where they can obtain legal and medical support.
In 2014, President Joseph Kabila appointed Jeanine Mabunda to serve as Personal Representative in Charge of the Fight against Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment. Over the past two years, her office has worked to fight impunity, resource civilian and military justice systems, provide critical services to victims, empower women and girls, and mobilize society to stop sexual violence in the DRC. Jeune Afrique magazine has named her one of the 50 most influential African women.