François Grignon of the International Crisis Group on the ongoing rape epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where “[t]ens of thousands of women and children were raped in the region last year alone”:
Panzi Hospital in the town of Bukavu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo specialises in the care of rape victims. Although Panzi has 350 beds, it must send many women home before they have fully recovered because of the never-ending stream of new patients arriving for treatment.
Panzi is emblematic of the catastrophic toll sexual violence has inflicted on the people of eastern Congo over the past decade. The non-governmental organization Medecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has reported that 75 percent of all the rape cases it dealt with worldwide were in the eastern Congo. A census by UNICEF and related medical centres reported treatment of 18,505 persons for sexual violence in the first 10 months of 2008, 30 percent of whom were children. This year, the situation deteriorated further still, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting a huge surge in sexual violence and rape in eastern Congo.
Reported cases represent only a fraction of the total — a vast number of cases go unreported. Women fear that they will lose all prospects for marriage or that their husbands will abandon them if they acknowledge they have been raped. In other cases, the threat of retribution — coupled with the near certainty that the perpetrators will never be held accountable — discourages women from stepping forward.
Most of the warring parties of the conflict in eastern Congo, including the Congolese Army, Rwandan Hutu rebels, and Congolese Tutsi rebels, have used rape as a weapon of war. Moreover, rape has become ingrained in Congolese civilian society and is widely used to determine power relations. Men and teenagers rape not only women and girls of all ages, but also other males. An estimated 90 percent of minors in prison in eastern Congo have been convicted of rape, according to the non-governmental North Kivu Provincial Subcommission on Sexual Violence.
The UN’s launch on April 1, 2009 of an overall strategy for combating sexual violence in the Congo was a welcome step. But this strategy and other recommendations for justice reform and for preventing sexual violence will be empty words in the absence of robust engagement at all levels of the Congolese civilian and military hierarchy.
As they say, read the whole damn thing.
Related: See the ICG report ‘Congo: Five Priorities for a Peacebuilding Strategy‘
Update 06.13: Jesurgislac, bumped from comments:
Just as a followup: Abortion is completely illegal in the DRC (though Doctors Without Borders provide abortion to women who have been raped) and it is this combination, of war rape with denial of legal abortion and often denial of treatment following an illegal abortion, that led to Amnesty International adopting the position that access to abortion and follow-up health care is a human rights issue, even if they only support access after rape.
This aspect of rape in the Congo is generally ignored by most articles on the topic. Therefore I mention it.