UNDP supports the justice system in the DRC

A police officer carries out a survey of sexual violence in Goma.
A police officer carries out a survey of sexual violence in Goma. Credit: Benoit Almeras, UNDP, 2013

Witness V51 walks through the dimly lit hallway, enters through the side door and, when called by the court, makes her way through the crowded room. Facing the five judges, she gives her name, then lifts up a leg of her trousers to show a deep scar before making her accusation. Dressed in yellow, the presumed leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) listens, standing, surrounded by his lawyers.

Key data

  • From 2006 to 2008, 450 cases of sexual violence were reported
  • In April 2011 alone, 3111 cases were reported
  • 450 trials were held in 2010 thanks to the UNDP programme
  • The Swedish government has provided US$7 million in financing

This trial of a group from the FDLR held in the DRC was historic. For the very first time, in August 2011, the military tribunal of Bukavu (the capital of the South Kivu province) convened about two hours away in Kalehe for a nine-day court hearing. The trial was held to judge FDLR members accused of crimes against humanity committed in the DRC between 2006 and 2008 during systematic attacks against villages in the region. Some 450 victims of extreme violence and serious human rights violations were identified.

These armed rebels, who impose a state of permanent insecurity on people living in North and South Kivu, are rarely arrested for their actions. When they are, they can still be extradited to Rwanda. The trial was held as a mobile court hearing at the Kalehe court in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Armed rebels, dressed in yellow in the photo, appeared before the court over nine days on Congolese soil for crimes against humanity.

“Without the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Avocats sans frontières (Lawyers without Borders) NGO and the judges and lawyers willing to travel, it would have been impossible to hold this mobile court hearing,” explains Sofia Candeias, head of the UNDP project.

Here and across the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where it intervenes, UNDP assists in every step of the entire legal process all the way through to the trial. It supports civil and military courts in their efforts to gather evidence, speak with victims and prepare case files. It also helps provide transport for victims, and sometimes even for the defendants when the police are unable to do so.

In Kalehe, the group leader received a lifetime prison sentence for crimes against humanity including rape, torture, murder and imprisonment or other serious forms of deprivation of physical liberty. However, the tribunal was unable to judge the 130 other defendants who had fled and did not appear before the court.

The project strengthens women’s access to justice by automating the process and making the lives of Kivu and Ituri residents safer. The initiative, which has received US$7 million in financing from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), aims to ensure that justice is carried out and applied throughout the country for all victims, regardless of the crimes committed.

The centrepiece of the project is judicial monitoring. Travelling by motorcycle, UNDP monitors cover nearly the entire area of the Kivus and Ituri to meet with representatives of the national police, courts and prosecutor’s office. The first report published in April 2011 revealed that 3111 cases of sexual or gender-based violence – or more than 10% of cases according to cross-referenced estimations – were registered in the justice system in North and South Kivu and Ituri in 2010. Of these cases, 305 received judgments that had not been enforced and none of the victims had received any form of compensation.

UNDP’s support to police, rape victims, lawyers and paralegals has enabled the Congolese government to conduct an in-depth investigation of more than 340 serial rapes that occurred around Walikale in August 2010.

Meetings are regularly held with local authorities, community leaders, citizens and students to raise awareness about women’s rights, gender violence and the role and capabilities of legal institutions.

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