Democratic Republic of Congo
Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo in May 2016, IBJ officially opened a Defender Resource Center in Bukavu, in the Congolese province of South Kivu, in June. This marks the launch of IBJ’s 7th country program. IBJ’s new DR Congo program is part of a larger Francophone Africa program supported by a generous grant from Global Affairs Canada, which IBJ is implementing in partnership with Montreal-based Equitas – International Centre for Human Rights Education. IBJ Founder Karen Tse and International Program Director Sanjeewa Liyanage visited Bukavu and Kinshasa in May 2016 to set in motion this new project.
Outside of Bukavu Central Prison
There is a great need for access to legal counsel in the DRC. While torture is criminalized in the DRC under Articles 16 and 18 of the Constitution, as well as under Articles 67 and 180 of the Penal Code, individuals in pre-trial detention are still extremely vulnerable to physical, mental, and sexual abuse, including torture. With 73% of the DRC’s prison population made of of pre-trial detainees, IBJ will be concentrating its efforts to provide legal help to individuals who are too poor to otherwise afford a lawyer. By taking on pro-bono legal cases, IBJ ensures that every woman, man and child accused of a crime is judged fairly in a court of law, to reduce prison overcrowding, and to reduce instances of abuse – which most often happen in pre-trial detention. With Avocats Sans Frontières ceasing their activities in the DRC in April 2016, who used to be one of the main providers of pro-bono legal aid, and no state-sponsored legal aid available for indigent individuals, the need for access to legal aid is greater than ever.
In addition to taking on legal aid cases, IBJ is fulfilling its mission of improving access to justice in the DRC and strengthening rule of law by undertaking several complementary activities. Through roundtable discussions, IBJ engages with key justice officials, including from the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Office of the First President of the Bukavu Court, and from the Ministry of Justice, to discuss gaps in the criminal justice system and come up with recommendations to address existing problems. Rights awareness campaigns and radio broadcasts are conducted to ensure that more people are aware of their legal rights and aware of the resources available to them in case of arbitrary detention. Live training sessions will also be held to reinforce the capacity of lawyers to provide legal representation.