1 March, 2019
Global movement: local impact
International Human Rights Programme / Partner story
Photo: © Physicians for Human Rights
Photo caption: Witnesses testifying in the Kavumu child rape case protect their identity in the Democratic Republic of Congo
In December 2017, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), ordinary people witnessed a milestone in justice. In a landmark judgement, a mobile court convicted 11 men of crimes against humanity – for abducting and raping more than 40 young girls in the village of Kavumu.
Although the accused men appealed the decision in July 2018, the court successfully upheld the verdicts, securing justice for the victims, the survivors and their families. The men, including a sitting member of a provincial parliament, were sent to prison for life.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) began its programme on sexual violence in conflict zones in DRC in 2013. To help local partners secure justice for the girls and their families, it worked in partnership with medical, law enforcement and legal professionals. Together they gathered forensic evidence from the survivors and built a case for prosecution.
PHR worked side-by-side with clinicians and justice sector officials documenting the girls’ injuries, helped coordinate the investigation, and provided technical assistance to police investigators. In particular, the new Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient, Dr. Denis Mukwege and his team of doctors and nurses at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu played a crucial role in collecting forensic medical evidence and in bringing international attention to these crimes against humanity.
Overall, PHR trained more than 1,350 doctors, lawyers, police and judges in DRC on how to document, preserve and use evidence of sexual violence to obtain justice for survivors. This has led to the development of a standardised forensic intake form at Panzi Hospital allowing for medical information to be used in courts. In addition, dedicated paediatric examination spaces and processes for treating child patients are now available at the hospital. Finally, PHR supported a holistic response to sexual violence – one which includes social and economic recovery.
This ruling, the first of its kind in Congolese history, is a concrete example of the ongoing relevance, value and ownership of fundamental human rights to people in the DRC. It also demonstrates how, by putting the defence of human rights in the hands of everyday people – both national and international and from various backgrounds – justice was achieved.
This work falls under Oak’s International Human Rights Programme strategy, which supports closing the impunity gap for gross violations of human rights by investigating and documenting gross abuses, holding abusers to account and seeking victim redress.
To learn more about the great work of our grantees protecting and promoting the human rights of all people, see pages 34-41 of our 2018 Annual Report.