Skip to Main Content
Printer Friendly Home > Issues > Rape in War

Adjudicating Sexual Violence Under International and Domestic Law: The Case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Judicial Colloquium

Pour lire cette page en français.

Since 2011, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has been working with clinicians, police officials, lawyers, and judges in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to end impunity for local perpetrators of sexual violence. Many Congolese judges adjudicating cases of mass rape do so under great risk to their own security and with minimal connection to their judicial colleagues adjudicating similar cases in international criminal courts. PHR's Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones has recognized that the isolation of these courageous Congolese judges poses deep challenges to their work and to the broader effort of bringing about systemic change in the DRC.

With these challenges in mind, PHR, in collaboration with Brandeis University and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), convened the first-ever judicial colloquium in October 2013 aimed at bringing together military and civilian judges from the DRC with a distinguished group of jurists from international criminal courts and regional tribunals. The colloquium, "Adjudicating Sexual Violence Under International and Domestic Law: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo," took place from October 28 to November 1, 2013 at the Kasteel De Vanenburg in the Dutch town of Putten. Participants included judges from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. Congolese participants included senior military and civilian magistrates from trial and appeals courts in Kinshasa, Goma, Bukavu, and Uvira. Two Congolese judges, who had been denied the required government permission to travel to The Hague, attended the sessions by video conference from the World Bank’s Kinshasa office.

    

Judicial Colloquium

From left to right: Judge Mindua (ICTY), Justice Doherty (SCSL), and Judge Diarra (ICC) take part in an exercise on building prosecutions with faulty evidence. Loes Voort, an IHJR intern, looks on.

    

The objective of the colloquium was to provide a forum for this influential group of judges to discuss the challenges of and best practices for adjudicating sexual violence cases. Over the course of 11 sessions, the participants shared emerging jurisprudence on sexual violence, new approaches to gathering forensic medical evidence, strategies for protecting witnesses and victims, challenges posed to judicial independence and security, addressing trauma, deliberating conviction, acquittal and sentencing, and the importance of establishing a peer network to advise and support their colleagues at risk, among many other topics. The gathering was enriched by a special visit from Dr. Denis Mukwege – the internationally-renowned gynecologist and founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC – who discussed not only the horrors of sexual violence that women, in particular, have endured during years of conflict in the DRC, but also underscored the importance of working to end impunity for perpetrators.

     

Judicial Colloquium

Dr. Coleen Kivlahan leads a session on collecting and documenting forensic medical evidence in sexual violence cases.

     

After three days of intensive dialogue in Putten, the Congolese judges traveled to The Hague for meetings at the ICC. The colloquium concluded with a reception hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in honor of both Dr. Mukwege and the Congolese judges, an event that marked the launch of the newly established judicial network. At the reception, both Congolese and international judges affirmed the broader value of the colloquium, the importance of deepening connections among jurists on these issues, and the critical need for continued work to support and educate judges on the use of forensic medical evidence in the adjudication of mass rape.

     

Judicial Colloquium

Participants attend a reception hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From left to right: Judge Shamavu (President of the Appeals Court of Goma), Judge Kipaka (Appeals Court of Gombé-Kinshasa), Dr. Denis Mukwege (Founder and Medical Director of Panzi Hospital, Bukavu), Judge Niyungeko (African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights), and Judge Diarra (ICC).

    

PHR will continue to support these judges in their communication and collaboration with one another. It is our hope that this pilot judicial colloquium will be the first among a series of gatherings with distinguished judges from international, regional, and local courts. Despite the differences in legal cultures and varying access to resources, we anticipate that these frank, off-the-record discussions will foster and deepen professional relationships and collaboration. As thought leaders in their field and communities, these judges are uniquely positioned to ensure the adoption of best practices and standards applicable in many different legal and cultural contexts in support of survivors of sexual violence. They are also well-positioned to advocate for the safety of their colleagues who may be at risk as they adjudicate these cases.

The colloquium was made possible thanks to the generous support of The Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Rice Family Foundation, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

Participants

Judge Fatoumata Dembele Diarra (Mali), International Criminal Court
Justice Teresa Doherty (Northern Ireland), Special Court for Sierra Leone
Capitaine Kobondo Pibwe Serge (DRC), President of the Military Garrison Court, South Kivu
Judge Baudouin Basilimu Kipaka (DRC), Appeals Court of Gombé-Kinshasa, former President of the Tribunal de Grande Instance in South Kivu
Judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua (DRC), International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
Colonel Freddy Mukendi (DRC), Military High Court
Judge Gérard Niyungeko (Burundi), African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights
Judge Daniel Nsereko (Uganda), Special Tribunal for Lebanon
Judge Emmanuel Shamavu (DRC), President of the Appeals Court of Goma

Medical Experts

Dr. Coleen Kivlahan, Senior Director, Health Care Affairs, Association of American Medical Colleges
Dr. Denis Mukwege, Founder and Medical Director, Panzi Hospital, Bukavu, DRC

Organizers and Staff

Karen Naimer, Director of the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, Physicians for Human Rights
Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, Brandeis University
Catherine Cissé van den Muijsenbergh, Executive Director, Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation
Ties Schelfhout, Program and Finance Officer, Institute for Historical Justice and Society
Caroline Dauber, DRC Coordinator for Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, Physicians for Human Rights
Nelly Corbin, Legal Fellow, Physicians for Human Rights
Laurence Carrier-Desjardins, Office of the Prosecutor, Special Tribunal for Lebanon