After three years and hundreds of cases, the mobile gender court project in South Kivu Province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been shortlisted for a prestigious international prize - most successful innovation in the Innovating Justice awards.
The winner of each of the three categories will be decided by a rigorous process involving voting online and a final panel of expert judges. To vote for the DRC mobile gender court project, people simply need to go to the site - http://www.innovatingjusticeawards.com/View-Idea/165?idea=1572 - and register and then vote.
The Innovating Justice Awards are designed to stimulate innovations in the justice sector and reward successful rule of law innovations - and highlight promising developments in the field that can be enhanced or indeed expanded.
Projects that are shortlisted for the successful innovation category need to show that they have been successful and that they have already made a difference. These innovations also contain valuable lessons for everybody involved in innovating Justice.
And the mobile gender court project certainly fits the bill. Started in 2009, the project sought to bring some measure of justice to communities that had long since given up on the rule of law - and give survivors hope that their attackers would pay for their crimes.
The American Bar Association/Rule of Law Initiative (ABA/ROLI) is currently co-ordinating the operation of the gender mobile courts, which operate within the structure of the DRC's justice system and travel to remote areas of South Kivu, where they afford victims of gender-based violence and other crimes a forum in which to hold their assailants - both military and civilian - accountable for abuses.
The mobile gender courts have already heard over 300 cases with well over a hundred convictions for rape and numerous convictions for other offences (mostly murder and property crimes). The mobile court also heard the famous Fizi case, which resulted in the conviction of Lt. Colonel Kibibi for crimes against humanity for his role in the mass rape of over 60 women in the town of Fizi on New Year's Day 2011.
But the impact of this kind of project can never be measured solely in numbers, especially given the size of the South Kivu (let alone the rest of the country) and the scale of sexual crimes. So OSISA - which funds the ABA/ROLI mobile court initiative in South Kivu - commissioned Judge Mary McGowan Davis to conduct an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the mobile court project and to prepare a report addressing the performance of the mobile courts themselves.
Specifically, Judge Davis - who was an acting Justice of the Supreme Court of New York and is a member of the managerial board of the International Association of Women Judges and active with several organisations focusing on human rights and traditional justice - was charged with evaluating whether the project is actually helping to tackle head-on the pervasive impunity for crimes of violence against women and children in South Kivu and to punish those found responsible.
After an exhaustive desk review, numerous interviews and a visit to Congo to see a mobile court in action, Judge Davis concluded that, despite the many challenges and frustrations that inevitably attend a project of this magnitude, the gender justice mobile courts have unquestionably delivered on their undertaking to bring justice to remote reaches of eastern Congo. Their work is notable for concrete, tangible results that demonstrate to the host communities that actions have consequences and that crime will be punished.
"The genius of the ABA/ROLI-supported gender mobile courts is that they have significantly transformed the prevailing discourse," said Judge Davis. "Now, punishment is no longer theoretical."
This evaluation shows that the project has been successful and has already made a difference - critical criteria for the Innovating Justice Awards.
Judge Davis highlighted a few areas of concern as well as providing some recommendations to improve the performance of the mobile courts. But overall, Judge Davis found that the ABA/ROLI-supported gender mobile courts have contributed to changing people's perceptions and tackling the prevailing culture of impunity.