A new law in the Democratic Republic of Congo will exempt victims of sexual violence from paying court fees

CW: Discussion of sexual violence

The Democratic Republic of Congo, known worldwide for its high rates of violence against women, has just taken a big step in the process of fighting impunity for these crimes.

After 16 months of work and under pressure from civil society organizations, the law exempting survivors of sexual violence from legal fees has just been passed by the National Assembly (lower house) of Parliament. According to Article 123 of the law, victims of sexual violence are now no longer liable to the payment of the costs of consignments, justice, enforcement and proportional rights, therefore modifying the Code of Criminal Procedure of August 6, 1959, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to several human rights defenders, the legal costs have previously constituted a second sentence for the victims of sexual violence. “Sometimes victims, mainly women, travel long distances to reach the courts. And when they finally get there, they face another one, that of legal costs. A victim of sexual violence is already vulnerable, recommends paying court fees is a double penalty,” explained Mimy Mopunga of CAFCO.

The different steps

In light of a campaign from civil society organizations, the country's National Deputy Juvenal Munubo introduced a bill in January this year which aimed to modify the code of criminal procedure of August 06, 1959. "This bill concerns vulnerable people, those who have difficulty in defending their rights, in going to court because of the costs. The costs of justice constitute a brake, like cultural constraints and witness protection," he said.

On Tuesday, April 18 2023, the bill was declared admissible by the National Assembly. The First Vice-President of the Lower House of Parliament, André Mbata sent this bill to the Political, Administrative and Legal Commission (PAJ) of the National Assembly for an in-depth examination.

On May 18, 2023, the National Assembly adopted the law, article by article. As a result of the Democratic Republic of Congo being bicameral, therefore operating with a National Assembly and a Senate, the law was sent to the Office of the Senate for a second reading, before being promulgated by the Head of State and published in the official journal.

Under pressure from civil society organizations

The Munubo Bill is the result of advocacy led by civil society organizations, in particular: Journalists for Human Rights (JDH/DRC), the Congolese Union Women’s Media (UCOFEM), the Permanent Framework of Concertation of Congolese Women (CAFCO), the Women and AIDS Network (REFESU) and the Women's Center for the Promotion of Development (CFPD). These NGOs have organized workshops, conferences and round tables within the framework of the "Canada World, the voice of women and young girls" Project, to sensitize the Congolese authorities on the need to remove the legal and financial burdens faced victims of sexual violence.

On June 9, 2023, civil society associations and media organisations organized a march in support of the work to review and adopt the NEW bill exempting victims of sexual violence from the various legal costs. "We call the Senate Bureau to schedule the examination of the said bill before the end of the current session, encourage the honorable senators to unanimously adopt the bill. If the Senate does not do this, the law risks falling into oblivion, because the next session in Parliament will be essentially budgetary. And in December, everyone will have their heads and hearts turned towards the elections,” the organizations specified in a memorandum.

In addition to victims of sexual violence, the bill also covers people living with disabilities, orphans, widows, as well as seniors across the country.

One thing is clear: the law marks a big win in the country’s fight against sexual and gender-based violence.