DRC Combats Sexual Violence with Mobile Gender Courts

DRC Combats Sexual Violence with Mobile Gender Courts

By Tara Pistorese
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo—Since 1996, approximately 500,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have fallen victim to sexual violence according to United Nations (UN) estimates. Although UN members and the Security Council have condemned the sexually motivated injustice, the sufferers of these violent crimes are often stigmatized by their own communities and rarely see their attackers brought to justice.

Mobile court hears a rape case in South Kivu. (Photo Courtesy of ABA Rule of Law Initiative)

“As violence escalates in the eastern [DRC], I am deeply concerned that sexual violence is once again a pattern of the conflict,” said the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Vijay Nambiar, in a statement. “In the context of illegal activities of armed groups, serious crimes have been reported.”

A lack of funding and issues of integrity have contributed to the overall failure to bring many perpetrators of these crimes to justice in DRC. Moreover, many victims are unable to reach a police station or afford the costs of bringing a case to trial.

Specifically, in South Kivu in 2005, fewer than 142 of incidents of sexual violence faced a tribunal, although 14,200 were recorded that year. Similar failures have surfaced within DRC’s national courts, although the Ituri district boasts some progress, including ten recent rape convictions.

In an effort to curb judicial shortcomings, a project was initiated in South Kivu in 2009 whereby mobile courts travel from city to city to bring justice to the victims of sexual violence. The mobile gender courts—supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, and the Open Society Institute for Southern Africa in collaboration with the Congolese government—have emphasized locally-led justice.

The project has enjoyed considerable success. Within the first twenty months of its existence, fourteen court sessions took place, 248 cases were tried, and 140 perpetrators were convicted of rape. Mobile courts have held sessions in many cities and villages from urban regions, such Baraka and Bakavu, to more remote villages, like Kamituga and Mwenga.

However, limitations on the mobile courts call their sustainability and effectiveness into question. The itinerant agencies often require staff to travel by plane and automobile very far distances and through difficult terrain to reach remote service areas. Sadly, the courts also lack funding for basic and necessary equipment and supplies, such as paper.

Mobile trials typically last two weeks, in compliance with international law requiring crimes of this nature to conclude within three months. Additionally, this timeline provides “timely redress to individual victims in communities still struggling with the chaotic aftermath of war and political upheaval,” according to Judge Mary McGowan Davis, who was recently invited to assess the productivity of the mobile courts. On the other hand, the speed of the trials and their conclusions make important components of an effective trial, such as obtaining witnesses, very difficult.

The court sessions, which are exclusively staffed by Congolese citizens, are typically made open to the public in an effort to break down the stigma surrounding victims of sexual crimes.


For further information, please see:

All Africa—Africa: Mobile Gender Courts-Delivering Justice in the DRC—30 July 2012

UN News Centre—UN Official Condemns Sexual Violence by Renegade Soldiers—18 July 2012

News 24—UN Condemns Eastern DRC Attacks—17 July 2012

Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa—Helping to Fight Impunity for Sexual Crimes in DRC—7 May 2012


Belarus Government Punishes Officials and Perpetrators for Teddy Bear Incident

By Connie Hong
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MINSK, Belarus – A Swedish advertising company, Studio Total, flew a small plane across the Belarusian border and dropped hundreds of teddy bears to draw attention to violations of freedom of expression in Belarus on the country’s Independence Day, July 4. Photographer and journalism student, Anton Suryapin, now faces up to seven years in prison after posting pictures of the incident on his website.

Swedish teddy bears supporting freedom of expression in Belarus. (Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International) Swedish teddy bears supporting freedom of expression in Belarus. (Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International) Continue Reading

Religious Leaders Call on Mississippi Church to Reject Racism

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

JACKSON, Mississippi — Southern Baptist leaders said Monday that a Mississippi church was wrong to prevent a black couple from getting married at the church earlier this month, and called on the church to reject racism.

Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson were forced to relocate their wedding just days before the ceremony after some members of the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, near Jackson, Miss., complained complained about the black couple having a wedding there. (Photo Courtesy of Black America Web)

Directors of the Mississippi Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention said in keeping with the Baptist tradition, the congregation needs to “chart its own course.”

“Our entire country, and especially here in Mississippi, has been on a long journey for right rational relationships,” read a statement from Jim Futral, the executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention board.  “Mississippi Baptists both reject racial discrimination and at the same time respect the autonomy of our local churches to deal with difficulties and disagreements under the lordship of Jesus.”

Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson found out days before their July 21 nuptials that some members of the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, near Jackson, complained about the black couple having a wedding there.  The church’s pastor, Rev. Stan Weatherford, married the couple at nearby church in an effort to make peace and avoid conflict.

“I didn’t want to have a controversy within the church, and I didn’t want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te’Andrea,” Weatherford said in an interview with the Huffington Post.  “I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day.”

Charles Wilson has said members of the congregation, nevertheless, have threatened to fire the pastor.

But some churchgoers denied that the story being played out in the media is fully accurate.  They said it has caused hardship.

“There’s a lot of people in the church that are suffering inner turmoil over this issue, said church member Ralph Miley in an interview with WAPT News.

The Jackson television station also reported on the congregation’s frustration, with one woman swinging her purse at one of the station’s reporters before entering the church for Sunday morning services.

Other congregants acknowledge the pastor was trying to do the right thing.

“He was trying to gain time to deal with racism among the few members of our church who created this situation,” said retired Southern Baptist pastor Robert Mack to WAPT News.

The state and national church leaders also said Monday they are praying for the church and are ready to help, if needed.

“We are all saddened when any sin, including the sin of racism, rears its head,” said Southern Baptist Convention spokesperson Sing Oldham.  “Part of our gospel is that we are being redeemed.  We are flawed, failed creatures, and redemption is a process.”

So far, the church has not contacted state officials for any assistance.

A community rally for racial unity was planned in Crystal Springs for Monday evening.

For further information, please see:

The Clarion-Ledger — Southern Baptists: Mississippi Church Wrong to Reject Black Couple’s Wedding — 30 July 2012

WAPT News — Baptist Bodies Call on Church to Reject Racism — 30 July 2012

The Washington Post — State and National Baptist Leaders Ask Church that Turned Down Black Wedding to Reject Racism — 30 July 2012

USA Today — Baptist Groups: Miss. Church Wrong to Not Marry Black Couple — 29 July 2012

WAPT News — Members Speak out on Crystal Springs Church Controversy — 29 July 2012

The Huffington Post — Black Couple says Racism Forced Wedding Relocation — 28 July 2012

Four Sentenced to Death for Involvement in Iran Bank Fraud Scandal

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — Four people have been sentenced to death by an Iranian court for their involvement in the largest ever bank fraud scandal in the country’s history.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied any government involvement in the scandal. (Photo Courtesy of BBC News)

Two other defendants received life sentences, while 33 more will spend up to 25 years in jail, the chief prosecutor was quoted as saying.

“According to the sentence that was issued, four of the defendants in this case were sentenced to death,” Prosecutor General Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei told IRNA, the country’s state-run news agency.

In addition to jail time, some were sentenced to flogging, ordered to pay fines, and banned from holding government jobs.

The case became public in September 2011, when an investment firm was accused of forging documents to obtain credit from at least seven Iranian banks over a four-year period.  It reportedly involved forged documents used to secure a $2.6 billion loan.  The money was reportedly used to buy government-owned companies under the government’s privatization scheme.

Allegations included that the embezzlement was carried out by people close to the political elite or with their assent.  The story’s breaking fueled weeks of political conflict between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denied his government’s involvement last year, and Iran’s ruling hierarchy of clerics.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while criticizing financial corruption and acknowledging the political damage, said in televised comments last year that the media should not “drag out the issue.”

“Some want to use this event to score points against the country’s officials,” Khamenei said.  “The people should know the issue will be followed up on.”

Businessman Amir Mansoor Khosravi, who the Iranian media has described as the mastermind behind the scheme, is said to have forged letters of credit from Iran’s Bank Saderat to fund dozens of companies and buy a state-owned steel factory.  Mahmoud Reza Khavari, the former head of Iran’s largest bank–the state-owned Bank Melli–resigned because of the scandal.  He then fled to Canada, where records indicate that he owns a $3 million home.

Mohseni-Ejei did not name the defendants on trial, and the Iranian media only identified them by their initials.  State television broadcast parts of the trial, but blurred out the faces of the accused.  He believes the case demonstrates that Iran can appropriately deal with high level fraud.

“The government, parliament, and all available devices were used to pursue the issue so that corruption can be fought in an open manner,” he said.

Despite the Prosecutor General’s claim, one defendant believes that while the judiciary vigorously pursued some low-level players, senior officials involved in the scheme had gone unpunished.  “Many other banking officials are outside of prison right now,” an unnamed steel company official asserted.  “Why are you able to put us on trial and have nothing to do with them?”

For further information, please see:

Al Arabiya — Four Sentenced to Death for Iran’s Biggest Bank Fraud — 30 July 2012

Al Jazeera — Death Terms in Iran Bank Scandal — 30 July 2012

BBC News — Four Sentenced to Death over $2.6bn Iran Bank Fraud — 30 July 2012

The Guardian — Iran Sentences Four to Death Over Bank Fraud With Political Fallout — 30 July 2012

Reuters — Iran Sentences Four People to Death for Bank Fraud — 30 July 2012

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