To stem gender-based violence (GBV) and help end impunity in the war-torn region of eastern Congo, DRL supported an initiative by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) to provide free legal assistance to victims of GBV and sexual violence in Goma, North Kivu. All victims seeking assistance from this program are provided advice on their legal rights and judicial options under Congolese law as well as free psychological counseling. Through the establishment of a first of its kind legal aid clinic, 296 GBV survivors received free legal counseling and 212 survivors received free psychological counseling; 98 criminal complaints were filed against suspected perpetrators; and an unprecedented 25 rape convictions were secured.
In addition to providing legal and psychological services to GBV survivors, the project has addressed the long-term capacity of the judicial system to adjudicate GBV crimes by training over 160 justice sector professionals on the laws and criminal procedures governing GBV and sexual violence crimes. Thus far, ABA ROLI has trained over 160 justice sector professionals on the laws and criminal procedure governing gender-based violence and sexual violence crimes, and how to correctly handle such crimes. Trainees have included over 65 lawyers from the North Kivu Bar Association; 32 magistrates from the North Kivu Court of Appeal and Tribunal de Grande Instance; 14 judges, 11 prosecutors, and seven military auditors from the Auditorat Militaire and the Military Court of Goma; and 38 police officers. In addition to providing training and materials, ABA ROLI strives to support the development of a cadre of lawyers and legal professionals who are committed to representing victims of gender-based violence and sexual violence and has recently started to recruit lawyers from the North Kivu Bar and local NGOs. Furthermore, to ensure that efforts to combat gender-based violence in eastern DRC continue, the North Kivu Bar Association created a mechanism by which pro bono lawyers will provide free legal services to victims who cannot afford it.
In addition to legal and counseling services, all victims referred to the ABA ROLI office are tested for HIV/AIDS or other infectious diseases and receive follow-up care with ABA ROLI’s local partner, HEAL Africa hospital. An ABA ROLI executed outreach campaign informs potential victims of existing legal and health services through referral systems, radio and TV spots, and articles.