DRC: National Assembly passes law to exempt sexual violence survivors from paying high legal fees

JHR-DRC Head Prince Murhala and MP Juvenal Munubo at the press conference held on May 19, 2023 to announce the passing of the new law exempting SGBV survivors from paying legal fees

On May 18, 2023, DRC marked a big win in the country’s fight against sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

The National Assembly passed a law that exempts SGBV survivors from paying legal fees when pursuing a case against their perpetrators. Barring one abstention, the assembly unanimously voted in favour of the law. This new law amends Article 123 of the 1959 Congolese code of criminal procedure.

At a press conference held on May 19, MP Juvenal Munubo retraced the two-year effort to bring this law into existence and congratulated JHR-DRC and its partners for this incredible result.

This new law comes after an extensive media campaign led by JHR-DRC (under the Global Affairs Canada-funded Canada World program) to engage stakeholders in government and civil society to improve access to justice for SGBV survivors. Early in this effort, brainstorming sessions between experts in June 2021 led to the recommendation that the high cost of initiating a court case against perpetrators of sexual violence needs to be eliminated. JHR-DRC partnered with local civil society organizations to initiate a draft law that exempts survivors from court fees, which went on to be endorsed by four MPs. MP Juvenal Munubo then introduced the law in the Office of the President of the Lower House of Parliament in February 2022. After its introduction in the National Assembly, JHR-DRC continued its media awareness campaign about the dire need for the law’s adoption, leading to further endorsement by such key government stakeholders as the presidential advisor on sexual violence. The law has now passed one reading and will be sent to the Senate for a second reading before its expected promulgation by the DRC President in mid-2023.

“This is a significant victory because we managed to bring something new into the Congolese legal arsenal ,” said Serge Ndogo of the Women’s Coalition for Peace and Development. “Since 2011, after the signing and ratification of the Kampala Declaration of Heads of State of the Great Lakes Region to fight against sexual violence, we have advocated for free care for victims of sexual violence and the removal of 6% proportional charges for the execution of the judgment. I am proud of the overall work done by JDH and its partners and I am proud to have actively participated and contributed to the outcome of this proposal, which is now a law.”

Beatrice Makaya, member of the Network of Women in Higher Education and Universities, said: “This law is timely when we already have a program to popularize the legal texts against sexual violence in universities. It is a plus in the fight against sexual violence in the DRC, particularly in universities.

JHR-DRC will continue its work to raise awareness about the new law among stakeholders while its promulgation by the President is awaited.

Keeping the law in the news

On June 9, JHR-supported CSOs held a peaceful march in Kinshasa, in support of the law. At the march, the organizers expressed their gratitude to the National Assembly, where 366 out of 367 deputies voted in favor of the bill and asked legislators to expedite the review process, as the timely advancement of this bill is of utmost importance to ensure its official promulgation by the President.

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