Cedric Gerbehave/Doctors Without Borders/AP
A rape victim is photographed at a clinic in Western Kasai, Congo.

Congo's Women Speak Up To Protect Others From Rape

October 20, 2008 08:02 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Local and international efforts are bringing more attention to rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is seeing more prosecutions for sexual violence.

Rape Victims Make Progress in DRC


The United Nations has said the Democratic Republic of Congo has some of the worst sexual violence in the world, according to the New York Times, but some recent efforts are starting to slowly change that.

In the last several months, international groups have poured money into the country to try to bolster Congo’s justice system. Investigators are getting more training, and an American Bar Association clinic has been opened to help rape victims get their cases prosecuted. Rape victims themselves are also speaking out about their experiences in forums that move listeners to tears, the Times said.

Victim advocates have been troubled by the lack of attention rape has received in the Congo, where 60 percent of perpetrators are believed to have the AIDS virus.

This summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led a debate on rape as a weapon at the United Nations.

UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said, “At this meeting, we hope the council will adopt by consensus a resolution to be proposed by the United States calling for an end to the use of sexual violence against civilians as a weapon of war.”

According to The Nation, “Rape as a weapon of war is as old as war itself. What has changed recently is that sexual violence is no longer considered just a byproduct of conflict but is being viewed as a war crime.”

In the DRC, more people have died than in Afghanistan, Darfur and Iraq combined, and “the most frequent targets of this hidden war are women,” reports CBS. The weapon of choice among militiamen is rape.

According to IRIN, the rape epidemic in Congo stems from genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. “Since then, the Congolese army, foreign-backed rebels, and home-grown militias have been fighting each other over power and this land.”

Despite a 2004 Amnesty International report on the topic, the U.N. did not address conflict-related rape until April of this year. New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof said the UN has responded “painfully slowly.”

Background: The Rwanda connection

In October 2007, the New York Times documented rape in the DRC with video footage of Panzi, the main hospital for rape victims, where ten new women arrive seeking care each day. According to reporter Jeffery Gettleman, Hutu militias thought to be “psychologically destroyed by the Rwandan genocide” are gang raping and mutilating victims.

In July 2004, Amnesty International released a report called “Rape as a Weapon of War,” which included testimony from hundreds of women, and concluded that Sudanese pro-government militias were targeting non-Arab groups in Darfur. Amnesty requested an international commission of inquiry into the conflict, and said not enough was being done to protect women in Darfur and Chad.

In March 2004, near the five-year mark of the war in the DRC, The Nation reported that rape was being used as “a cheaper weapon of war than bullets,” and frequently, family members were forced to watch or participate in rapes. Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch said, “The country is in an utter state of lawlessness.”

Opinion & Analysis: Shrugging off Central Africa

In his blog, “On the Ground,” New York Times reporter Nicholas D. Kristof said the UN is beginning to recognize the epidemic of mass rape, but it has happened “painfully slowly.” And although systematic rape is constituted as a crime against humanity, “it thrives in part because the world shrugs,” Kristof said.

Reference: Profiling Sudan; Stop Rape Now


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