Sexual Violence in Congo at epidemic propotions

DR Congo Sexual violence against women in the southern province of South-Kivu (number 7 on the map) has reached epidemic proportions according to reports by the local commission on sexual violence.

Between January and June 2007 some 5,470 cases of sexual violence had been reported. Victims under 18 years of age represent 79 percent of cases, and 20 percent of the cases required surgical intervention.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has, since it’s independence in the 1960s, been a source of concern about Human Rights. The previous dictator had his likeness printed on all bank notes and made it compulsory to display his picture in public buildings. In the 2006 UN inspection for the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) resolution the final report stated:

“The Committee is concerned that in the post -war transition period, the promotion of women’s human rights and gender equality is not seen as a priority…The Committee is deeply concerned about the continuing occurrence of rapes and other forms of sexual violence against women and the ingrained culture of impunity for such crimes, which constitute grave and systematic violations of women’s human rights. It is concerned about the insufficient efforts to conduct thorough investigations, the absence of protection measures for witnesses, victims and victims ’ families, the lack of information and data regarding cases and the lack of appropriate medical care, including rehabilitation measures, for victims…The Committee urges the State party to take without delay all necessary measures to put an end to all forms of violence against women and the impunity of perpetrators.”

In 2007 the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council of the UN reported that:

“sexual violence is rampant and committed by non-state armed groups, the Armed Forces of the DRC, the National Congolese Police and increasingly also by civilians. However, I would like to caution against singling out sexual violence from the continuum of violence that Congolese women experience, which manifests itself in various forms in their homes and communities. Violence against women seems to be perceived by large sectors of society to be normal.” From UNOG

Yakin Ertürk, the Special Rapporteur, continued to highlight some of the worst atrocities uncovered:

  • In South Kivu much of the sexual violence is reportedly perpetrated by foreign non-state armed groups, some of which have been implicated in the Rwandan genocide and subsequently fled to the DRC. Operating from forest areas, these armed groups raid local communities, pillage, rape, sexually enslave women and girls and subject them to forced labour. The atrocities perpetrated by these armed groups are of an unimaginable brutality that goes far beyond rape. The atrocities are structured around rape and sexual slavery and aim at the complete physical and psychological destruction of women with implications for the entire society. They are in many ways reminiscent of those committed by the Interahamwe during the Rwandan genocide. Women are brutally gang raped, often in front of their families and communities. In numerous cases, male relatives are forced at gun point to rape their own daughters, mothers or sisters. Frequently women are shot or stabbed in their genital organs, after they are raped. Women, who survived months of enslavement, told me that their tormentors had forced them to eat excrements or the human flesh of murdered relatives.
  • The FARDC, the National Congolese Police (PNC) as well as other State security forces continue to perpetrate sexual violence. In South Kivu and the Ituri, while non-state armed groups remain the main perpetrators of sexual violence, close to 20% of all cases of sexual violence are reportedly committed by the FARDC and the PNC. FARDC units are said to be deliberately targeting civilian communities suspected of supporting militia groups and pillage, gang rape and, in some instances, murder civilians. Individual soldiers or police also commit such acts, considering themselves to be above the law.
  • n Equateur Province, I was shocked to find out that the PNC and FARDC frequently respond to civilian unrest with organized armed reprisals that target the civilian population and involve indiscriminate pillaging, torture and mass rape. In December 2006, for instance, the PNC assembled about 70 police officers from duty stations across the region to take revenge for the burning of the police station in Karawa. The PNC officers pillaged the town, tortured civilians and raped at least 40 women, including an 11-year old girl. So far not a single police has been charged or arrested in relation to the Karawa atrocities
  • More fundamentally, the widespread use of sexual violence in the armed conflict seems to have become a generalized aspect of the overall oppression of women in the DRC. Such behavioural norms will therefore remain a serious problem in the future – regardless of the security situation, unless Government and society are willing to make a serious effort to fundamentally change the prevailing gender relations that subordinate and devalue women.
  • Many rape victims are re-victimized because they are rejected by their own communities, families or husbands due to the stigma attached to rape, while the rapists enjoy impunity. Deprived of social support networks, these women are destitute and struggle for their mere physical survival. The problem is compounded by the fact that most survivors grapple with grave medical and psychological problems. The plight of the babies born of rapes is another serious concern yet to be addressed.
  • In July 2006, the Congolese Parliament passed the Law on the Suppression of Sexual Violence, which foresees strengthened penalties and more effective criminal procedures. In practice, however, little action is taken by the authorities to implement the law and perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity, especially if they wear the State’s uniform.

All from UNOG