Health professionals are crucial first responders for sexual violence survivors, yet few have the skills to properly collect and document forensic medical evidence. And securing evidence is only the first step: in order for sexual violence cases to be prosecuted, police officers, lawyers, and judges must also be trained to properly handle and analyze the evidence they receive – and to work in collaboration with each other and their medical counterparts.
PHR’s Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones facilitates this critical dialogue. Using our unique cross-sectoral approach, we bring medical, law enforcement, legal, and judicial professionals together to learn how to properly collect, safely preserve, securely transfer, and ultimately interpret and use forensic evidence of sexual violence in a court of law.
These collaborations are making a significant difference for survivors. In December 2017, in an extraordinary victory for justice, a military court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) sentenced 11 men to life in prison for crimes against humanity for the rapes of dozens of little girls in the town of Kavumu. A network of Congolese doctors, nurses, police officers, and lawyers trained by PHR provided crucial evidence that contributed to this unprecedented verdict.
We have recently expanded our work to the Central African Republic and to Iraq, where we are improving the capacity to document, analyze, and preserve forensic evidence of international crimes, with a focus on sexual violence. PHR’s medical-legal curriculum has also been used to train judges who sit on international courts and tribunals, and by Syrian doctors and lawyers to document instances of torture and sexual violence in the Syrian conflict.
PHR’s training model aims for long-term capacity development and sustainability. In Kenya and the DRC, our “training of trainers” workshops have produced a group of highly trained professionals who are having an impressive multiplier effect: they are taking the skills they learn through PHR and training others to respond effectively to sexual violence in their communities and countries.
PHR also partners with hospitals to take capacity development beyond the training of professionals across sectors. PHR is currently implementing an institutional capacity strengthening project in the DRC and Kenya, in conjunction with our multi-sectoral and training of trainers approaches. By focusing on the capacity development of institutions and by improving facilities’ capacity to provide post-rape care services, PHR aims to enhance medical-legal examination, documentation, evidence collection, and the provision of comprehensive care to survivors of sexual violence – and therefore to increase access to justice.
PHR works directly with health care institutions to engrain best practices in forensic documentation, patient care, and survivor-centered approaches. Following a collaborative assessment of the forensic documentation and post-rape care services available at the facility, PHR and the institution work together to improve those services through staff development and the introductions of standardized protocols, procedures, and commonly accepted practices. These are implemented in partnership with the health care facility and policy makers to secure their buy-in and long-term support.
By working on a systemic level, forging new coalitions across sectors, and bolstering capacity for local prosecutions, PHR is helping to strengthen accountability mechanisms for sexual violence. Ending the culture of impunity is crucial to deterring future crimes and enabling survivors to obtain a measure of justice.