Combatting impunity in a collapsed state
Congo (the Democratic Republic of the) / Freedom for Justice / 7 feb 2018
The Democratic Republic of Congo is often described as the epitome of a collapsed state; torn by complex conflicts on regional, national and local levels. Rebel factions have been fighting the government, fighting each other, attacking civilians and been subjected to infighting in varying degrees of intensity since the country’s independence. The vast country’s richness in natural resources including diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, cassiterite (tin ore) and coltan, has funded and prolonged conflicts. Violence has been particularly frequent in the Kivu regions where targeting civilians is common. The current security situation in South Kivu means human rights violations are committed with impunity: murder, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence, recruitment and use of children in armed groups and the collection of illegal taxes by military and rebel combatants continue throughout the chaos of conflict. Sexual violence by both government forces and rebel militia groups is documented to be widespread, with many historical crimes not yet addressed.
Pilier aux Femmes Vulnérables Actives (PIFEVA) is currently operational in eight territories of South Kivu. Since its creation in 2004, PIFEVA has implemented various projects to care for victims of sexual violence and monitor, document and report on the human rights situation. PIFEVA runs legal clinics where legal literacy and counselling sessions are held. PIFEVA paralegals and attorneys assist victims of sexual violence with cases in civil and military courts. The organization also seeks to end impunity through awareness raising and advocacy work.
Sexual violence remains unpunished in South Kivu for several complex reasons, according to PIFEVA. These include the inability of authorities to prevent sexual violence and protect survivors in times of armed conflict, the reluctance of victims to report sexual violence due to fear of reprisals, ignorance of the right to legal recourse, the persistence of discrimination against women and the poverty of the majority of survivors who are unable to take their case to court. While PIFEVA cannot change the security situation in South Kivu, they are able to educate women on their rights to legal recourse and provide the funds and support to get them successfully through a court case. They can also care for their psychological wellbeing as survivors.
One survivor said, "I did not trust the Congolese police and judicial institutions for lack of information, but thanks to PIFEVA, I benefited from legal and judicial support since the filing of my complaint until the conviction of the person who raped me by the Uvira District Court in South Kivu. The legal information that was provided to me at the legal clinic PIFEVA also allowed me to know the process of access to justice in case of rape and any other violation of human rights.”
A total of 12,137 people, most of whom are victims of sexual violence, have benefited from PIFEVA's legal clinics. Despite facing intimidation and threats from those who would rather PIFEVA stay quiet about these issues, their staff continue to survey, document and report on human rights abuses – stepping in where possible to bring perpetrators to justice.
Pilier aux Femmes Vulnérables Actives is a finalist for #WalkTogether Prize for Courage as part of The Grassroots Justice Prize.