Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mobile courts take justice to remote areas--in Congo, no less

NPR reported yesterday on a conference in London about rape as war crime and what can be done to stop it.  This is a very important event, as this issue is near and dear to my own heart.  Indeed, just a few hours before I heard the story, I was interviewed by Film at 11 about some work I did in 1996 for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, investigating sexual assaults that occurred as part of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  The feminist in me is very excited about this conference.

But the story also intrigued and pleased the ruralist in me where Ari Shapiro reports:
Karen Naimer, who directs the Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones with Physicians for Human Rights, recently saw how the attitudes toward this issue have changed. She was in Congo, at a mobile court that brings justice to remote villages. 
"We were in this small town of Kahele, and 19 female survivors came. And they were waiting for their day in court," says Naimer. 
Two militia members were on trial, accused of holding 400 women in the bush as sex slaves for a year. Women showed up with babies they had borne in captivity. Naimer sat with the victims as they waited to testify. 
"And what was so striking to me as I spoke with them quietly was their deep desire to face their perpetrators and to demand justice," says Naimer. "That cathartic process comes at such a cost for them. The kind of community, rejection, stigma they face, they were willing to endure that because this moment in time is so necessary for their personal healing."
I have written some about the issue of access to justice for rural people (and have a piece on that topic forthcoming in the South Dakota Law Review), and sometimes the struggle is for literal, physical access to a court.  It is about getting to the courthouse.  So I am intrigued by this idea of a mobile court.  I guess one could liken it to the judges who still "ride circuit" in a number of rural areas in the United States, going from courthouse to courthouse over a region or district to hear motions and conduct trials.  But I guess I didn't expect something this novel and innovative to come out of the Congo.  I'm impressed.

Cross Posted to Feminist Legal Theory.

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