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Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones

Sita Kimya -

 

As efforts to support legal redress for survivors of mass rape intensify in Central and East Africa, PHR – in collaboration with a number of local partners in the region – is working to improve the abilities of the health and legal communities to build prosecutions of sexual violence crimes.

Health professionals are crucial first responders to rape survivors, yet many receive little training in the forensic collection and documentation of evidence. Additionally, police, lawyers, and judges need support to properly assess sexual violence and effectively interact with health workers and survivors.

Sexual Violence Forensic Medical Evaluation Training
PHR medical experts Dr. Coleen Kivlahan and Dr. Ranit Mishori train Congolese health care providers to conduct forensic medical evaluations for sexual violence survivors in Bukavu, DRC.

In 2011, PHR launched the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, a multi-year training and advocacy initiative, with the aim of forging coalitions among regional medical, law enforcement, and legal experts in CAR, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda. PHR’s goal is to dramatically increase local capacity for the collection of court-admissible evidence of sexual violence to support prosecutions for these crimes.

The Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones draws on PHR’s extensive expertise in documenting war crimes and providing forensic training to professionals in regions of conflict where mass crimes have been committed. Specifically, the program includes a series of cross-sectoral, collaborative training workshops for members of the health care, law enforcement, and legal communities.

Program Activities

Through its workshops, PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones:

  • works with local experts to train doctors, nurses, and psycho-social trauma and recovery counselors in the collection of forensic evidence of sexual violence, including documenting health consequences, assuring appropriate treatment, and supporting legal assistance and advocacy;
  • provides a forum for essential cross-training and professional collaboration in serving survivors’ needs;
  • connects members of the health, law enforcement, and legal sectors to facilitate an informal regional support network among stakeholders working to combat sexual violence;
  • advocates for national and international reforms addressing the political, legal, social, and cultural obstacles that often derail efforts toward prosecution; and
  • supports the ICC and other international and local legal processes in their efforts to prosecute the highest-level perpetrators of mass atrocities in these countries.

In addition to strengthening the capacity of each of these sectors to respond to sexual violence, PHR’s initiative aims to raise the profile of nurses documenting evidence, reduce professional isolation, increase communication, and facilitate dialogue across the medical, law enforcement, and legal communities.

To accomplish its goals, PHR has brought together a broad network of local and international experts, including doctors, nurses, police officers, forensic experts, lawyers, and judges. These experts, along with other partners, have helped to develop training materials and lead workshops aimed at defining and implementing forensic best practices over the long term.

Sexual Violence Forensic Medical Evaluation Training DRC
A Kenyan police officer practices evidence and chain of custody labeling.

PHR’s training model is designed with a view toward long-term capacity building and sustainability, as graduates of our training program will be well-positioned to then train their colleagues and counterparts in subsequent workshops.

By working on a systemic level, forging new coalitions across sectors, and bolstering capacity for local prosecutions, we can help strengthen accountability mechanisms for sexual violence in East and Central Africa. Ending the culture of impunity is crucial to deterring future crimes and enabling survivors to obtain a measure of justice.

To date, PHR has:

  • convened basic and advanced forensic training workshops in many communities in eastern DRC, Kenya, and elsewhere;
  • trained more than 350 service providers from the health, law enforcement, and legal sectors;
  • launched cross-sectoral networks of local professionals in the DRC and in Kenya; and
  • developed and deepened local partnerships over the last two years to facilitate communication, coordination, and collaboration among health, law enforcement, and legal service providers.

Dr. Mukwege, Panzi Hospital, and PHR’s Partnership

Dr. Denis Mukwege is a world-renowned gynecological surgeon who is the founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, DRC. Since he founded the hospital in 1998, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have helped to care for more than 30,000 survivors of sexual violence. For the last eight years, Dr. Mukwege has been PHR’s close colleague and, more recently, we have been partnering with him and his staff at Panzi Hospital through our Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones (based at Panzi Hospital).

Learn more about Dr. Mukwege, Panzi Hospital, and PHR's parternship.

MediCapt

MediCapt is a mobile application, under development by the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones at PHR, to help clinicians more effectively collect, document, and preserve forensic medical evidence of sexual violence to support the prosecution of these crimes. This critical tool converts a standardized medical intake form for forensic documentation to a digital platform and combines it with a secure mobile camera to facilitate forensic photography.

Learn more about MediCapt.

Judicial Colloquium

PHR, in collaboration with Brandeis University and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, 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.

Learn more about the judicial colloquium.

PHR Expertise in Documenting Mass Rape

PHR has longstanding experience in forensic investigations and advocacy to end rape in armed conflict. For more than 20 years, PHR has conducted pioneering research and advocacy on this issue, including in its landmark studies in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan/Chad.

Learn more about stopping the use of rape as a weapon of war.