“The man who mends women”

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)Human rights defendersNewsSexual violenceWomen’s rights

Brussels – On Thursday April 30th, a ‘Justice and impunity’ evening will take place in Brussels. The public will have the opportunity to watch the film “L’homme qui répare les femmes” (“the man who mends women”). This documentary by filmmaker Thierry Michel recounts the incessant fight of Doctor Mukwege against sexual violence which affects thousands of women in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Jean-Philippe Kot, ASF expert in international justice tells us more about theses serious violations of human rights.

How can one explain the fact that there are so many cases of sexual violence in Eastern DRC?

Jean-Philippe Kot: Generally speaking, ‘practices of war’ pervade society and can lead to a loss of values and references. There is a correlation with armed conflicts, but it is more complex than that: reasons for sexual violence are multiple. These acts are committed in conflict situation as a weapon of war. Other reasons may be a desire for compensation in kind, or destruction of family and social structures. ‘Domestic’ sexual violence is increasing. Sexual violence can also be explained by phenomenon’s such as sexual predation, fetishism or belief. For example, some perpetrators believe that violating a child would bring them wealth, healing or luck.

Why is access to justice so difficult for victims of sexual violence?

J-P K: Victims are often unaware of their rights. There are also security issues as well as the distances between victims and justice. Victims sometimes refrain from filing a complaint due to fear of being rejected by their community. Establishing evidence is an issue due to the lack of resources. For instance, the lack of doctors and resources prevent the establishment of medical protocols which will serve as proof. Moreover, investigations are rarely immediately carried out even after the facts and testimonies are sometimes collected in a row. These practices can often lead to a situation where the real needs of victim are not necessarily taken into account, which can be problematic for the subsequent stages of procedures.

Some believe that special international and national courts should be created to judge people accused of sexual violence. Good or bad idea?

J-P K.: This could help addressing the issue provided these special courts are complementary to other courts, and conflicts of competence are being avoided. Special courts are often temporary. And ensuring the sustainability of the judicial system in DRC is essential. There are courts and tribunals; they need to be strengthened. It is a long term endeavour which our teams lead on the ground. Despite all the challenges, we also see the courage of stakeholders – victims, local organisations, lawyers or judges – involved in the fight against impunity and the recognition of victims.

ASF has been working in DR Congo since 2002, carrying out projects that aim to increase access to justice for victims of international crimes and other violations of human rights.
Practical information about the  “Justice & Impunity” evening : On Thursday April 30th, 20h, Brussels, Vendôme cinema, payment in cash only. Movie in French, English and Swahili. Subtitled in French and Dutch.
Cover picture: “The man who mends women”, a movie by Thierry Michel & Colette Braeckman, © Tom Svensson