Borders between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are among the busiest in the world in terms of informal cross-border trade. It is reported that about 50,000 people cross the Petite Barrière border post between Rubavu and Goma to trade foodstuff and basic services on a daily basis. Between November and December 2020, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) and Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe (PFTH) identified about 6,500 women who permanently rely on informal cross-border trade through Bukavu/Rusizi, Goma/Rubavu and Kamanyola/Bugarama border posts as their main source of income. All of these women have been involved in informal cross-border trade for 2 years at least with a capital of less than 50$. Every day, when they cross the border on both directions to buy or sell goods, these women face various challenges including payment of non-gazetted taxes, sexual and gender-based violence, harassment, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of their goods, etc.
This was the case of Marie-Rose Mukambakuriyemo and Adela Nyirasinayobye, two Rwandan women selected by their cooperative “Indashikirwa” to sell their members’ chickens in one of Bukavu’s markets. They crossed the Ruzizi-1 border on 18 December 2020 with 46 chickens worth about 460$. When they arrived at the market, Mr. Takis – a representative of a Bukavu-based association of poultry sellers – denied them from entering the market and confiscated all their chickens. He alleged that, as foreigners, Rwandan women are not allowed to do retail business in DRC. They are supposed to sell in gross to their Congolese counterparts who are allowed to retail in local markets.
Fortunately, Marie-Rose and Adela had just attended a workshop organized by Pro-Femmes for leaders of women informal cross-border traders’ cooperatives a couple of days before. During the workshop, Adela and other women were informed about the Legal Aid Clinics set up in the framework of ‘Empowering Women in Informal Cross-Border Trade in the Great Lakes Region’ (EWICBT) Project on both sides of the DRC/Rwanda border to provide free and quick support to women cross-border traders who are victims illegal and unfair treatments during their business. So, they immediately contacted Pro-Femmes to complain about what had happened. Without delay, Pro-Femmes referred them to iPeace’s legal aid team positioned a few meters from the Ruzizi-1 border post. After listening and ascertaining the soundness of the claim of Marie Rose and Adela, iPeace legal officer invited Mr. Takis to tell his version of the story. After long discussions and involvement of a Congolese border official, Mr. Takis was requested to return all the 46 chickens to Marie-Rose and Adela. He was also reminded that his status as the president of a local association does not give him power to deny access to the market to other people nor to confiscate their goods. In case of any claim or concern, he should refer to competent authorities.
“Almost every day when we cross to DRC, we expect to face some kind of harassment either from local authorities, police, border officials or our fellow traders. Since COVID-19 outbreak, the confiscation of goods by the heads various associations has become frequent. As foreigners, we don’t know where to take our claim, and some of us do not even speak Kiswahili. That is why we end up paying a lot of money to get through. I am happy that this time I was able to recover all my goods swiftly and without paying a single dollar”, said Marie Rose after she sold her returned chickens. “I would like to thank iPeace and Pro-Femmes for establishing their offices next to the border. The fact that some of their staff in DRC understand Kinyarwanda made it easier for me to clearly explain the issue. I have been crossing the border for many years, it is the first time I am able to talk to an official without being humiliated. Usually when you take the risk to complain to Congolese authorities, it takes long before your case is solved and you must pay a lot of money – sometimes above the value of the disputed goods – before your claim is settled. For that reason, most of us give up on our confiscated goods to return home. Now that I know there are people to help us quickly and for free, I feel like my confidence in pursuing my business has increased.”, added Adela. In the DRC, the multiplicity of services at border posts blurs the system and puts women cross-border traders at the mercy of shady people, including public servants.
Marie-Rose and Adela are among the 11,679 women in informal cross-border trade and their husbands who are direct beneficiaries of the EWICBT project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to improve safety, security and enabling environment for cross-border trade while increasing income and social economic welfare of women who do informal cross-border trade between DRC and Rwanda. The comparative advantage of this project consists in the simultaneous implementation of identical activities on both sides of the RDC/Rwanda borders, which allows women from each of the two countries to be equally protected when they cross the border to conduct their trade activities. This project’s activities are implemented by Pro-Femmes in Rwanda and iPeace in DRC through 30 June 2022.
iPeace provides legal services to 233 Burundian Refugees, survivors of Sexual violence and child abuse
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) partnered with Plan International Rwanda partnered with IPHR to provide Legal Services for Access to Justice to Burundian Refugees in Rwanda. The overall objective of this project was to provide access to public service to Burundian refugees in Rwanda. But more specifically, this project intended (a) to provide free, speedy and quality access to justice for Burundian refugees, especially to survivors of SGBV and child protection incidents; (b) to increase birth registration for babies born to Burundian refugees either in camps or in urban areas; (c) to build the capacity of administrative and justice actors including the police, public prosecution, judges, and local authorities at sector and district levels on forced migration laws and procedures; (d) to empower both refugees and host communities with basic knowledge on human rights, governance, and laws and legal procedures pertaining to refugees, child protection (CP), and SGBV; and (e) to do a strong advocacy for a non-discriminatory treatment of Burundian Refugees by administrative and judicial institutions.
Accordingly, iPeace received and handled 233 cases, including 33 SGBV cases, 26 CP cases, 5 common-law cases (robbery, alimony, etc.), and 169 birth registration cases. This represents an average of 58,2 cases per month and approximately 2 cases per calendar day. As far as SGBV/CP are concerned, 84% of cases were reported from Mahama camp, which is by the way the area hosting the majority of the Burundian refugees population. Similarly, more than 89% of cases related to birth certificates originated from Mahama Camp.
3rd edition of Great Lakes Reginal Moot Court Competition in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights successfully completed
From 7 to 12 December 2016, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) organized in Kigali the third edition of the Great Lakes regional moot court competition in international humanitarian law and human rights in partnership with the Comité pour le Concours Grands Lacs (CCGL). The theme of this year was “The Fight Against Sexual Violence during an Armed Conflict Period: What role for local, regional and international actors?”
The capacity of 42 students and lecturers from 14 universities from Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda was strengthened through various workshops and conference as weel as a moot court competition which was won by the Université Protestante au Congo (UPC) from Kinshasa. The final of the competition opposed the team of UPC to that of Université de Goma (UNIGOM). In addition to the finalists, the following universities participated in the training: Université du Burundi, Université du Lac Tanganyika, Université Lumière de Bujumura (Mutanga Campus), Université Lumière de Bujumbura (Kinindo Campus), Université des Grands Lacs, University of Rwanda, Université de Kisangani, Université de Mbujimayi, Université Officielle de Mbujimayi, Université Catholique de Bukavu, Unversité Officielle de Bukavu and Univesité Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs.
This training was funded by the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, the City of Geneva, Plan-les-Ouates municipality, Pro Victimis Foundation, and International Committee of the Red Cross.
SECOND EDITION OF THE REGIONAL MOOT COURT COMPETITION IN INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS
For the second time in a row, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) in partnership with Comité pour le Concours Grands Lacs (CCGL) has organized a training on international humanitarian law and human rights for university students and lecturers of Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda.
During this competition two students representing respectively each university confronted their knowledge in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights around the theme: « Sexual Violence in period of armed conflict: What responses from the International Humanitarian law and Human Rights? ». In final, Universite Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs based in Goma (DR Congo) won the competition after a tough pleading battle against Universite Lumiere de Bujumbura – Kinindo Campus.
In total, fourteen (14) universities, namely University of Burundi, Université Lumière de Bujumbura (Kinindo Campus), Université Lumière de Bujumbura (Mutanga Campus), Université du Lac Tanganyika, Université des Grands Lacs, Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs, Université d’Uvira et des Grands Lacs, Université Catholique de Bukavu, Université Officielle de Bukavu, Université de Kisangani, Université de Kinshasa, University of Rwanda, Kigali Independent University (ULK – Kigali Campus) and Kigali Independent University (ULK – Gisenyi Campus) have participated in an intensive three-month training which is completed by a moot court competition in Kigali on 26 – 30 May 2014 in the buildings of Kigali Independent University (ULK-Gisozi).
The organisation of this training/competition is itself a very big contribution in the efforts to enhance peace in the Great Lakes region, torn by multiple armed conflicts sine 90s, since it has not only equipped law lecturers and students with necessary knowledge to face the unfortunate legacy of these armed conflicts but also it has evidenced that academics from this region can work together for a noble cause. Furthermore this competition has also offered to students an opportunity of exposure and competitiveness at the international level. It is in this framework that, for instance, the two winners of the first edition (2013) were automatically admitted and offered a scholarship of about fifteen thousand American dollars each to pursue an advanced masters programme in international humanitarian law and human rights at the world-renowned Academy of the International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights of Geneva in the Switzerland. The automatic admission of these students in this world-class university, which receives an annual average of one thousand applications from all over the world for only forty available positions, as a consequence of their outstanding performance during the competition is a clear acknowledgment of the rigor and high level of this event.
This competition is now organized on an annual basis in rotation between these three countries where IPHR is already legally operating. Accordingly, the third edition will be held in Bujumbura (Republic of Burundi) on 11 - 15 May 2015. The second edition was funded by the City of Geneva and the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs with a logistical support from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Kigali Independent University (ULK).
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights – Initiatives pour la Paix et les Droits Humains (IPHR-IPDH) poursuit la consolidation de son implantation dans la région des Grands Lacs pour le renforcement de la culture de la paix à travers l’éducation aux droits humains et à la bonne gouvernance. C’est dans cet ordre que la personnalité juridique a été conférée à IPDH-Burundi et IPDH-RDC respectivement par l’Ordonnance du Ministère de l’intérieur No 530/333 du 03 mars 2014 et l’Arrêté du Ministre de la justice et des droits humains No 160/CAB/MIN/J&DH/2014. Pendant des longs mois que la procédure d’octroi de la personnalité juridique a pris pour aboutir à ces deux actes, IPDH n’a jamais tenté d’abdiquer à mener tant bien que mal ses activités dans ces deux pays. Ses activités ont été alors menées sur base des autorisations provisoires émises par des autorités compétentes. Il va de soi que ces deux actes ministériels sont d’une importance capitale dans la mesure où ils reconnaissent à IPDH d’être titulaire des droits et des obligations, en tant qu’organisation, dans chacun de ces pays. Dans ce sens, IPDH-IPHR attend une implication accrue des partenaires locaux, régionaux et internationaux dans la mise en œuvre de ses actions de renforcement de capacité des populations et autorités locales (à travers des sessions de formation), de recherche ainsi que de plaidoyer sur les droits humains et la bonne gouvernance dans la régions des Grands Lacs, sans oublier la facilitation de l’accès à la justice aux personnes démunies.
Dans les années à venir, IPHR-IPDH attend se focaliser davantage sur la promotion et la protection des droits économiques et sociaux pour le mieux être des individus et communautés vivant dans cette région des grands lacs.
Par ailleurs, IPHR-IPDH est consciente que la région des Grands Lacs ne vit pas retranchée du monde. De ce fait, quand bien même la paix et la stabilisation de cette région sont la responsabilité première de ses filles et fils, elle (la région des grands lacs) reste aussi tributaire de la contribution de la communauté internationale dans son ensemble.C’est dans cette optique que la création de Stichting Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (SIPHR) a été légalisée dans la ville d’Utrecht au Royaume des Pays-Bas en date du 28 avril 2014 dans le but primaire de lever des fonds pour financer les activités d’ONG locales basées dans la région des grands lacs africains dans leur travail d’éducation aux droits humains et à la bonne gouvernance. Plus spécifiquement, les fonds levés par SIPHR seront destines à financer les projets visant (1) la promotion et protection des droits humains incluant entre autres l’accès gratuit à la justice aux personnes et groupes vulnérables tels que les femmes, les enfants, les personnes vivant avec handicap, les LGBT, les personnes vivant avec le VIH/SIDA, etc. (2) la reconstruction de la paix et la réconciliation, (3) le renforcement de la bonne gouvernance et de l’Etat de droit et (4) l’encouragement du réseautage entre les organisations poursuivant les objectifs ci-haut mentionnes.
Il est anticipé au sein de la famille IPDH que le travail en synergie entre les sections nationales du Burundi, de la RD Congo et du Rwanda et SIPHR des Pays-Bas va impacter de façon durable la vie des hommes, femmes, enfants, jeunes et vieux de cette région du monde longtemps meurtrie par des conflits armés cycliques, d’une faiblesse avérée des institutions et des violations récurrentes des droits fondamentaux.
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) continues to strengthen its presence in the Great Lakes region in order to enhance the culture of peace through human rights and good governance education. It is in this framework that legal personality has been conferred to IPHR-Burundi and IPHR-DRC by respectively the Ordinance of the Ministry of Interior No.530/333 of 3 March 2014 and the Decree of the Minister of Justice and human rights No.160/CAB/MIN/J&DH/2014. During the long months that the procedure for granting legal personality took, IPHR never abandoned to pursue its mission in these two countries. IPHR’s activities were then conducted on the basis of provisional authorizations issued by the competent authorities. It goes without saying that these two ministerial acts are of paramount importance since they recognize IPHR to hold rights and obligations, as an organization, in each of these countries. It follows that IPHR-IPDH expects greater involvement of local, regional and international partners in the implementation of its actions in relation with building the capacity of individuals, communities and local authorities (through training), researching, and advocating for human rights and good governance in the Great Lakes region, not to mention facilitating access to justice for the poor.
In the coming years, IPHR intends to focus more on the promotion and protection of economic and social rights for the well-being of individuals and communities living in the Great Lakes region.
Moreover, IPHR is aware that the Great Lakes does not live cut off from the world. Therefore, even though the peace and stability of this region are the primary responsibility of its daughters and son, the Great Lakes region also remains dependent on the contribution of the international community as a whole. It is in this context that the creation of Stichting Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (SIPHR) was legalized in the city of Utrecht in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on 28 April 2014 with the primary purpose of raising funds to finance activities of local NGOs based in the African Great lakes in their work of education on human rights and good governance. More specifically, the funds raised by SIPHR are intended to finance projects aiming at (1) the promotion and protection of human rights including, among others, free access to justice for vulnerable individuals and groups such as women, children, people living with disability, LGBT, people living with HIV/AIDS, etc., (2) the enhancement of peace-building and reconciliation, (3) the strengthening of good governance and the rule of law, and (4) the promotion of networking among organizations pursuing the objectives mentioned above .
It is strongly believed within IPHR family that the synergy between the national organizations of Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda and SIPHR in Netherlands will impact in a sustainable way on the lives of men, women, children, youth and old in this region long scarred by cyclic armed conflicts, dramatically weak institutions and recurring human rights violations.
Elvis Mbembe Binda, IPHR's president and co-founder, has just appeared on the 2013 "99 Under 33" list published this afternoon by the US Magazine Diplomatic Courier as one of the World's Top 99 most Influential Leaders in Foreign Policy Under the age of 33. “99 Under 33” is an international list jointly launched by Diplomatic Courier and Young Professional in Foreign Policy in 2011 to capture the extraordinary impact on international affairs of 99 diverse Millennials under the age of 33. Several hundred people were nominated this year by last year’s 99 Under 33 honorees, ambassadors, business leaders, and scholars. Only 99 were selected after a rigorous three-step process by the Selection Committee.
The list and individuals profiles of the Top 99 Under 33 offer insight into creativity, determination, and passion of the young people like Elvis Mbembe who are already tackling and solving the world’s critical global challenges. This year only four Africans appeared on the list of which most of the nominees are americans. Other African nominees are from Ghana, Kenya and Liberia. By design, this list is broad and diverse, encompassing entrepreneurs, technologists, journalists, bankers, activists, and scientists—as well as diplomats and other government officials. This reflects the belief that foreign policy in the 21st Century is made by leaders from all sectors. The "99 Under 33" recognizes the distinctive impact each of the honorees has on his or her community today and their promise of potential as leader in the future.
Everyone on the list is quite different, but every single person was chosen for specific reasons. Each of the honorees has been mapped to one of the seven leadership archetypes that define the "99 Under 33", even though many of them exhibit most of these qualities in some facet of their work:
- A Catalyst is from a field not typically associated with foreign policy who has had an impact on international affairs.
- A Convener brings people together in creative ways to address a pressing international issue or enhance the foreign policy community.
- An Influencer mobilizes people in the foreign policy community with bold new ideas.
- An Innovator designs a new solution to a critical global challenge.
- A Practitioner changes foreign policy from the inside through extraordinary professionalism and skill.
- A Risk-taker takes a chance and sees it pay off.
- A Shaper changes the public discourse on an aspect of foreign policy or raises awareness on a critical issue.
“As a Catalyst, Elvis works tirelessly to uphold respect of human rights, good governance and rule of law in the Great Lakes of Africa. Elvis emphasizes the power of human rights and good governance education for sustainable peace in the region and he shares this approach with university students.” highlights Ana C. Rold, Editor-in-Chief, Diplomatic Courier.
This nomination is a recognition of modest efforts that IPHR is doing to contribute in peace building in the Great Lakes region. For instance, in May this year IPHR organized a regional moot court competition in partnership with a Switzerland-based NGO (Comite pour le Concours Grands Lacs) on international humanitarian law and human rights that brought to Kigali law students and teachers from fourteen (14) universities of Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda. Two students (from the University of Kinshasa in DRC) who won the competition were automatically admitted to pursue a Master’s programme (LL.M) in Advanced Studies of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights at the Geneva Academy in Switzerland with full scholarship.
Like other honorees, Elvis has been invited to the official reception that will be held in Washington, DC at the National Press Club on October 9th, 2013.
On 20-22 August 2013 Mr Yves Sezirahiga, the head of Human Rights and Access to Justice unit of IPHR, participated in a regional workshop on "Abortion, Reproductive Rights and the Role of Lawyers" that was organized in Nairobi by Ipas. This training brought together lawyers working in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia and Rwanda who are well versed in reproductive rights and committed to promoting access to safe abortion.
The objectives of the workshop were: (1) to share their work promoting reproductive rights and access to safe abortion and learn from others, (2) to build capacity in promoting abortion rights through constitutional reform, improving access to medication abortion, law reform, working with law enforcement, and communications, and (3) to cultivate relationships among lawyers working on abortion in the region.
Like many african countries, Rwanda has recently introduced restrictive provisions related to abortion in the Penal Code. According to article 165 of new Penal Code (2012) of Rwanda, abortion can be accepted only in case of rape, incest, forced marriage or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the mother's life. Apart from the last case, in the three other circumstances abortion can only be authorized by a court. This really threatens the reproductive rights of women and girls in Rwanda. During the training, Mr Yves did a presentation where he raised the issue caused by the criminalization of abortion under Rwandan law. He recalled Rwanda's international obligations especially regarding Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of women in Africa in its article 14(a) and (c) enjoining State parties to "insure that the right to health of women, including sexual and reproductive health is respected and promoted. This includes: a) the right to control their fertility [...] and c) the right to choose any method of contraception".
IPHR is strongly advocating for the promotion of reproductive rights for all Rwandan women. This workshop was part of our regional networking and efforts to equip IPHR staff with necessary knowledge and skills to better promote women's rights. A project to raise the awareness of the Rwandan judiciary (judges, prosecutors, police, and lawyers) about women's reproductive rights is underway in a perspective of promoting access to safe abortion.
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights legally admitted to operate in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) has just been given a go-ahead from the department of Justice of the South Kivu Province to operate countrywide in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This authorization has been long overdue. IPHR Headquarters are located in Bukavu. Before this authorization, IPHR was active in the Eastern DRC carrying out activities especially in North Kivu province with its partners such as Ligue Congolaise pour la Promotion des droits des Personnes Vulnerables et/ou Marginalisees (LiCoProMa). This authorization is a milestone in the achievement of IPHR's vision to cover in medium-term three countries of the Great Lakes region that are Rwanda, DR Congo and Burundi. More details about our action plan for the DR Congo will follow soon.
For questions or information, please address an email to Mr Ezechiel Amani Cirimwami, the Vice-President of IPHR-DR Congo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elvis Mbembe, president of IPHR, with the competition winners
The winners of the first francophone regional moot court competition on international humanitarian law and human rights held in Kigali from 28-30 May 2013, miss Thesée-Aurore Mabaka and Mr Jean Jacques Tshiamala from the University of Kinshasa, have obtained an ex-officio admission to the Master’s program of advanced studies in international humanitarian law and Human Rights of the Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Geneva (ADH) for the academic year 2014-2015 thanks to a very good collaboration between the Comité pour le Concours Grands Lacs (CCGL) and ADH.
This admission granted by the Director of ADH, Ms. Paola Gaeta, which includes a tuition scholarship of 15,000 Swiss francs (approximately U.S. $ 15,775) and a promise of grant to cover the cost of living in Geneva is not only an award for the outstanding performance of the winners but also a recognition of the quality and seriousness of the competition which wants to become an annual academic event in the African Great Lakes.
Indeed, from 28 to 30 May 2013, twenty-eight (28) students from public and private universities of Burundi, DRC and Rwanda shared their knowledge and arguments around a fictional case incorporating various violations of international humanitarian law and human rights that the Great Lakes region faces since the 90s. The competition was organized by the Committee for the Great Lakes Competition (Swiss-based NGO) in partnership with Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (NGO based in Rwanda) through financial support of the Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, the City of Geneva and the Paul Reuter Fund and logistical support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Université Libre de Kigali (ULK).
Preparations for the next edition are already underway.
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