On this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we have something to celebrate. Fifteen years after signing the UN convention, the DRC has taken a major step forward in advancing human rights. After months of delay, the DRC finally changed its penal code and adopted a law criminalizing torture on July 13th.
Local and international human rights activists fought and waited for this victorious day to arrive. Among them is AJWS’s fearless partner, Action des Chretiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture (ACAT), based in North Kivu in eastern DRC. ACAT’s mission is to fight against all forms of human rights violations, including torture and death penalty. ACAT actively investigates and monitors human rights abuses in North Kivu, one of the most affected areas by the ongoing armed conflict in the country. For years, government security forces, including police and the army, have inflicted unimaginable suffering on civilians and detainees alike through torture.
Last September, AJWS awarded ACAT a grant to investigate 40 cases of torture in detention centers across three territories in North Kivu. Offering legal aid, ACAT sought medical assistance and reparations through the court system for 19 victims. In addition, ACAT continued its active advocacy campaign, targeting local lawmakers to pass the law prohibiting torture. In concert with other local and international organizations, ACAT’s successful campaign put consistent pressure on the government to live by its zero tolerance policy for torture and other ill treatment.
To commemorate the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, ACAT and other civil society organizations, in collaboration with the human rights section of the UN Stabilization Mission in Congo, met with local lawmakers and representatives from the military. ACAT used this opportunity to present on the current state of torture in North Kivu province. ACAT’s leaders identified 107 cases of torture in 2010 and 50 cases during the first half of 2011. These cases were identified within public and underground detention centers in North Kivu.
By adopting a law criminalizing torture, the DRC has reached a significant milestone in its fight against impunity. The next step, ACAT declares, is to widely publicize the new law throughout the DRC so community members can pursue justice for countless victims of torture and accountability for perpetrators. It will also be critical to maintain pressure on the government to enforce the law.