Emory Report
February 23, 2009
Volume 61, Number 21



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February 23
, 2009
Training Congolese police for a systemic impact

Deborah Hakes is media relations coordinator at The Carter Center.

Until recently, police officers in Kimbasneke, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), investigated case files at a music bar or other public space because they didn’t have office space. When it rained, they carried the papers under their shirts to preserve the files.

Police officers in the DRC face these and many other challenges in their daily professional activities that affect their ability to meet minimum standards of due process and other human rights guarantees. A training program from The Carter Center aims to help officers understand that they have the right to demand minimum working conditions that protect the dignity, safety and privacy of the accused and victim.

Many Congolese officers have never had any substantial instruction on general human rights principles and Congolese laws concerning sexual violence, rights of women, children and detainees. The two-day officer training focuses on such topics. For example, officers are given a copy of the rights of people under arrest, which specify that they have the right to remain silent and to hire a lawyer.

“I [recently] caught a man in his forties at a bar fondling a minor,” one police trainee said. “Before this training that scene seemed ordinary to me. But after the training I have become sensitive to child protection, and I understood [he] was committing a serious crime. I immediately arrested him, and he is in detention now as I speak.”

Although The Carter Center continues to encourage the Congolese government to ensure its officers have the necessary tools and resources to allow them to conduct their work in a professional manner that respects the rights of citizens, officers still lack office space, earn too little, and must detain people in cells that are too small and lack access to basic amenities such as a bathroom.

“We plan to expand our training to have a more systemic impact,” says Karin Ryan, director of the Center’s human rights program. “For now the program is reaching individual officers, but the problems are widespread. Our future trainings will focus on developing officers’ specific skill sets such as how to investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual violence, how to process detainees, how to keep records, and how to improve relationships with their respective communities.”

The Carter Center has worked in the DRC to help strengthen tools of democracy since observing the country’s 2006 elections, which were its first presidential and legislative multi-party elections in 46 years. Since 2007, The Carter Center has trained more than 200 Congolese police officers and judges in human rights policy and practice; established and trained a network of Congolese nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners in human rights; and trained women and men as paralegal consultants in the prevention and redress of gender-based violence.

The Center has also worked in the DRC to review and provide counsel on more than 60 current mining contracts; trained government officials and NGOs in producing reports for the United Nations on the DRC’s implementation of the Rights of the Child Protocol; and established the Human Rights House as a “safe space” for dialogue among Congolese NGOs, government officials, press, and members of the international community.