Judicial Colloquium on Sexual Violence in DRC

On 1 November, the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law hosted a network event at The Hague Institute on the occasion of the closing of a Judicial Colloquium on Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The network event, part of the judicial colloquium’s five-day gathering from 28 October to 1 November, provided participants the opportunity to share lessons learned and the challenges of addressing sexual violence in national courts with a broader audience of NGO’s, policy makers and academics from Dutch organizations.

On behalf of the Netherlands’ Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, The Hague Institute welcomed Director General for International Cooperation of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Rob Swartbol, who opened the meeting by stressing that the fight against sexual violence is far from over. Mr. Swartbol signaled that victims and survivors of horrific violence, particularly those suffering from social stigmas, are in desperate need for justice and compensation.

“Judges are important change makers in communities and in society, but they are not alone. Communities and their leaders are the ones who must solve the root causes,” Mr. Swartbol said. The Netherlands will continue to support these efforts and assist with finding solutions at the international, regional and national level in hope of bringing relief and promoting progress in Eastern Congo.

Dr. Denis Mugweke, founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in the DRC, delivered the keynote speech. He underlined the importance of acknowledging victims of sexual violence and he discussed “access to reparations.” Mr. Mugweke, an active human rights defender who has treated thousands of victims, pledged that Panzi Hospital would continue to provide medical care as well as free access to justice for all victims of sexual violence. He further emphasized the fight against sexual violence as an “international responsibility” and he praised Dutch efforts to fight impunity, so “we can continue to say ‘plus jamais ca.'”

The Colloquium was attended by a distinguished group of judges from the DRC, and organized by the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, Physicians for Human Rights and Brandeis University. It aimed to find ways to improve dealing with sexual violence cases. Along with judges, professionals from medicine, Non-government organizations and and academia took part in the colloquium. During the ensuing discussions, participants acknowledged that the biggest challenge relates not only to collecting evidence but also adjudicating without evidence. Three issues are considered to be crucial: to repair the dignity of the victims, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to establish an historical account. Therefore, it is important to train historians, doctors, and judges as well as other relevant actors to more effectively document sexual violence to help victims to obtain access to justice.

The judges from the DRC expressed their commitment to continue to fight impunity and to protect victims of sexual violence. The Knowledge Platform gladly supports the organizers of the colloquium in their efforts to take first step towards creating a network of international and national judges to fight impunity and help victims.

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