About the Author: Kate Krontiris serves as a Program Analyst for the Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Office of the Secretary of State.
It is a strange and wonderful feeling to realize that you are living through a moment of transformation in governance.
For the past 10 weeks, I have had an adventure in 21st Century Statecraft, or the idea that connection technologies can be a crucial component of our foreign policy and development objectives in an increasingly networked and borderless world. A team of people, led by Alec Ross, the Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary Clinton, has worked to develop technology interventions for strategic concerns in 17 different countries in the past 18 months.
In some places, these initiatives have been high-level technology delegations, liaising American technologists with government officials and civil society actors focused on a set of mutual interests. In other places, we have supported burgeoning communities of coders and programmers to develop mobile or internet applications of critical use to civilians and businesses. Of course, the Secretary herself has advanced the Internet Freedom policy agenda, which our team has had a role in planning and execution.
My primary task has been to collaborate with the Office of Global Women's Issues, the Office of War Crimes Issues, and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs to flesh out the idea of “mobile justice,” a concept we hope to pilot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the eastern regions of this country, many women and girls (and to a lesser extent men and boys) are survivors of sexual violence at the hands of armed groups and civilians. A lack of sufficient judicial, police, and legal infrastructure in the area means that many perpetrators go unpunished for their crimes. Additionally, many survivors are hesitant to report violence, out of fear of retribution and an understanding that the state has limited capacity to prosecute and punish offenders locally. Often, survivors are simply ignorant of their rights within the 2006 Sexual Offenses Act. Finally, while there is a modest judicial infrastructure in provincial capitals in Eastern Congo, much of the violence happens in the remote rural areas -- the geographic distance from regional courts and lack of roads and public transportation makes it nearly impossible for many survivors to have their cases heard. These factors also cut women off from medical care and from the psychological and legal assessments they need to move forward.
This summer, we have been trying to answer the following question: What if we could use technology to bridge the gap between survivors and their deserved judicial and medical response? And what if we could do it in a way that enhances ongoing initiatives to strengthen the Congolese legal, police, and social service systems so that these kinds of crimes cease?
To figure this out, we have conducted numerous conversations with our State Department colleagues, with NGOs on the ground in Eastern Congo, and with Congolese nationals themselves. While this needs assessment process has revealed key challenges, it has also highlighted multiple points of entry for mobile technology along the spectrum of judicial involvement from initial violence to case resolution. At the community, policing, judicial, and correctional levels, there are ways that connection technologies could make a real difference. Currently, we are working to finalize a concept and hope to launch a pilot project within the next six months.
Having worked on problem-solving justice projects for a number of years before returning to graduate school, I know that this process of assessment, recommendation, and implementation is a complicated one. It requires optimism and creativity, a deep knowledge of the policy and humanitarian issues at play, a persistent work ethic, and a commitment to the idea that there is a pragmatic role for innovation and technology in the process of justice. In the United States, innovative court projects often take years to complete. For our team to have moved as far as we have in ten weeks demonstrates a real dedication from the State Department to create significant and sustainable change in the judicial landscape in the Congo.
My takeaway this summer has been this: government is always capable of innovating on itself -- both our own and those of other nations. Now, more than ever, we must harness all of the resources of our uniquely American entrepreneurial spirit to meet the changing demands of governance. As the American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so presciently observed in 1963, “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” In our now global network of mutuality, I think we can take courage in the power of connection technology to enliven justice where it has long been dormant.
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