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Medical App Aims to Tackle Rape, Flag War Crimes in DRC


FILE- A Congolese soldier is stripped of his rank and uniform after the mass trial of 39 soldiers inside a military court in Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, May 5, 2014. The court martial sentenced the 39 soldiers on counts of rape and murder committed in the course of the 2012 military offensive in North Kivu province.

Activists behind an app designed to assist doctors document evidence of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo aim to go beyond obtaining justice for rape victims and collect data that could help secure prosecutions for war crimes.

Developed by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), MediCapt allows clinicians to record medical examination results digitally and photograph victims' injuries, store them online and send them directly to law enforcement officials and lawyers.

In a vast nation plagued by militant violence and poor roads that restrict access to remote areas, PHR hopes the mobile app will lead to more convictions for sexual violence and help Congo shake off its tag as "rape capital of the world."

Looking for patterns of abuse

By recording data about both victims and assailants, the app — which is currently in field testing — could also be used to detect mass violence and crimes against humanity and provide evidence for war crimes investigators, according to PHR.

"It has the power to be used as an early-warning system or rapid response tool, as the data could show patterns of abuses and violence," said Karen Naimer, director of the U.S.-based PHR's program on sexual violence in conflict zones.

FILE - A Congolese soldier stands guard outside a military tribunal in Baraka, Democratic Republic of Congo, Feb. 17, 2011. Eleven soldiers were charged with crimes against humanity over an instance of mass rape and looting in the eastern town of Fizi in January 2011.
FILE - A Congolese soldier stands guard outside a military tribunal in Baraka, Democratic Republic of Congo, Feb. 17, 2011. Eleven soldiers were charged with crimes against humanity over an instance of mass rape and looting in the eastern town of Fizi in January 2011.

MediCapt could help prosecutors map trends or patterns of locations attacked, victims targeted and languages spoken and the uniform worn by assailants, Naimer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The app may also be used to push for war crime prosecutions with evidence of crimes that are widespread or systematic," she said.

Ethnic violence in Congo, Africa's second-largest nation, has worsened since December, when President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his mandate.

Recent acts of violence between local militia and Congolese forces in central Congo, including the killing of civilians and foreign U.N. experts, could constitute war crimes, the International Criminal Court's prosecutor said in April.

Priority is aiding victims

Yet the priority for PHR with MediCapt — which will be rolled out for use by doctors in eastern Congo this summer — is to ensure that it gives victims of sexual violence the security and confidence to come forward and speak out, Naimer said.

Sexual violence is often seen as a byproduct of years of fighting in Congo, where atrocities were blamed on soldiers and armed groups, but rape is also rife beyond the conflict zones.

"While the app has the potential to highlight mass violence and human rights violations, protecting victims of sexual violence has to come first," Naimer said.

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