Civil society delegation meeting with the Minister of State for Gender (centre).
Congolese Civil Society Call for Access to Justice and Reparations for Survivors of Gender-Based Sexual Violence
Over three years, Oxfam in DRC has worked to support advocacy by a network of civil society organizations to end impunity for sexual violence. The network is led by Solidarité Féminines pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral-SOFEPADI (Feminine Solidarity for Peace and Integral Development) and Association des Femmes Juristes Congolaises-AFEJUCO (Association of Congolese Women Lawyers).
In September, a delegation of network members, together with Patrick Mulemeri (Oxfam Rights in Crisis Campaign Advisor), met with DRC’s Minister of Gender, Family and Children’s Affairs, Madame Beatrice Lomeya Atilite, to share concerns and recommendations to improve the protection of women and girls from SGBV.
In DRC, survivors of SGBV are desperate for accountability; thousands of women and girls are still waiting for justice to this day. Obstacles in accessing justice include high court costs, fear of reprisals, insecurity, and low levels of awareness about how to pursue accountability. In addition, survivors in remote locations often struggle to reach courts, which may be far away. Even when survivors achieve favorable court decisions, the justice system is often unable to ensure their implementation. Compensation awards, for example, usually go unpaid, leaving survivors frustrated and without financial support to overcome physical and psychological impacts of SGBV.
Free court fees and legal aid
The civil society delegation asked the Minister to support their recommendation for a law guaranteeing free court fees and legal aid to improve access to justice for victims and reduce cases of out-of-court settlements. In the context of conflict and acute poverty addressing many survivors, removing the financial barriers is critical to improving access to justice.
The delegation shared with the Minister their concerns about the inability for survivors to access effective reparations. Survivors of sexual violence suffer from great vulnerability and often lose livelihoods as a result of their experiences. In order to support them to regain their dignity and autonomy, they need financial and material reparations.
The delegation recommended the creation of a national reparations fund to ensure the reparation of victims individually or collectively in order to support their restoration and support their resilience. In response, the Minister shared her commitment to addressing the gap for SGBV survivors, and shared progress towards the development of a reparations fund for all victims of conflict and human rights violations in the DRC. She committed to ensuring that SGBV survivors would be given a priority in accessing this fund.
Access to information for all
The civil society delegation also urged the Minister to support efforts to improve awareness about sexual violence. Specifically, they recommended the integration of information about SGBV into school and university programs; programs to improve survivor’s access to information about legal processes; information campaigns about laws relating to sexual violence; and activities targeting young people, using radio, TV, social networks, exchange platforms, forums. The delegation emphasized the importance of ensuring information is available in all national languages.
Finally, the Minister promised the delegation of Civil Society Organizations that the doors of her Cabinet remain open to advance the cause of women in the DRC. The network of civil society organizations is planning further advocacy meetings with other members of government and parliamentarians to ensure broader support for their recommendations.