Rape is a horrifying reality for all too many women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where decades of conflict have produced one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the world, and where cultural norms and weak institutions have worked together to largely silence survivors of these devastating crimes.
As part of our work to stop rape as a weapon of war, PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones began working in eastern DRC in 2011, partnering with world-renowned gynecological surgeon Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder and medical director of Panzi Hospital near Bukavu, along with his dedicated staff and colleagues.
The program’s aim is to strengthen the capacity of local doctors, nurses, police, lawyers, and judges to document forensic medical evidence of sexual violence, preserve it in a court-admissible form, and use it to prosecute perpetrators. To date, PHR and our partners have trained hundreds of Congolese medical, legal, law enforcement, and justice professionals in the proper collection, storage, and transmission of this critical evidence.
PHR’s work contributed to a significant victory in 2017, when a Congolese military mobile court in the eastern province of South Kivu convicted 11 men (link to PR on conviction), including a powerful provincial lawmaker, of crimes against humanity for the rape of dozens of young girls, as well as murder, in the village of Kavumu. An appeals court upheld the landmark ruling in July 2018.
PHR played a key role in this extraordinary and unprecedented outcome, partnering with doctors, nurses, and psychologists (link to a new partners page), as well as military investigators, police, and lawyers, to help gather evidence to prosecute the crimes. PHR and its local and international partners also urged the court to allow witnesses to testify without having to stand before the accused, or to wear head-to-toe coverings, to be identified by code numbers instead of their names, and to use voice modification devices provided by PHR to further hide their identities from the public courtroom.
In the DRC, PHR partners are also field-testing our award-winning MediCapt mobile app (link to MediCapt page), which enables medical professionals to collect, store, and safely share forensic medical evidence in cases of sexual violence. The information, which is captured on a mobile device like a tablet or cell phone, is uploaded to the cloud and can then be accessed in a secure and efficient way by other professionals working on the case, such as police, lawyers, and judges.
PHR has been documenting human rights violations in the DRC since 1997 as a part of our exploration of the public health effects of conflict.
In June of 1997, we published our report “Investigations in Eastern Congo and Western Rwanda,” which exposed the killing of 2,000 to 3,000 civilians in Western Rwanda and outlined the roles of key figures, governments, and policies in contributing to political and economic unrest, insecurity, and vulnerability in the region.
Watch this video to learn more about our work.