On the DRC and Rape as a Weapon of War

by matttbastard

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.

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“An Act of Criminal International Misogyny”

by matttbastard

Via Feminist Peace Network, The Nation recently published a blistering speech from former UN AIDS envoy (and current co-director of AIDS-Free World) Stephen Lewis that highlights the lackluster, indifferent international response to endemic rape and sexual violence against women in the Congo.

A sample:

I want to set out an argument that essentially says that what’s happening in the Congo is an act of criminal international misogyny, sustained by the indifference of nation states and by the delinquency of the United Nations.

[…]

The sordid saga ebbs and flows. But it was brought back into sudden, vivid public notoriety by Eve Ensler’s trip to the Congo in July and August of last year, her visit to the Panzi Hospital, her interviews with the women survivors of rape, and her visceral piece of writing in Glamour magazine which began with the words “I have just returned from Hell.”

Eve set off an extraordinary chain reaction: her visit was followed by a fact-finding mission by the current UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs who, upon his return, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times in which he said that the Congo was the worst place in the world for women. Those views were then echoed everywhere (including by the EU Parliament), triggering front page stories in the New York Times, the Washington Postand the Los Angeles Times, and a lengthy segment on 60 Minutes by Anderson Cooper of CNN.

Largely as a result of this growing clamor against the war on women in the Congo, and the fact that Eve Ensler herself testified before the Security Council, the United Nations resolution that renewed the mandate for the UN Peacekeeping force in the Congo (MONUC, as it’s called) contained some of the strongest language condemning rape and sexual violence ever to appear in a Security Council resolution, and obliged MONUC, in no uncertain terms, to protect the women of the Congo. The resolution was passed at the end of December last year.

In January of this year, scarce one month later, there was an “Act of Engagement”–a so-called peace commitment signed amongst the warring parties. I use “so-called” advisedly because evidence of peace is hard to find. But that’s not the point: the point is much more revelatory and much more damning.

The peace commitment is a fairly lengthy document. Unbelievably, from beginning to end, the word “rape” never appears. Unbelievably, from beginning to end, the phrase “sexual violence” never appears. Unbelievably, “women” are mentioned but once, lumped in with children, the elderly and the disabled. It’s as if the organizers of the peace conference had never heard of the Security Council resolution.

But it gets worse. The peace document actually grants amnesty–I repeat, amnesty–to those who have participated in the fighting. To be sure, it makes a deliberate legal distinction, stating that war crimes or crimes against humanity will not be excused. But who’s kidding whom? This arcane legal dancing on the head of a pin is not likely to weigh heavily on the troops in the field, who have now been given every reason to believe that since the rapes they committed up to now have been officially forgiven and forgotten, they can rape with impunity again. And indeed, as Dr. Mukwege testified before Congress just last week, the raping and sexual violence continues.

The war may stutter; the raping is unabated.

But the most absurd dimension of this whole discreditable process is the fact that the peace talks were “facilitated”–they were effectively orchestrated–by MONUC, that is to say, by the United Nations. And perhaps most unconscionable of all, despite the existence for seven years of another Security Council resolution 1325, calling for women to be active participants in all peace deliberations, there was no one at that peace table directly representing the women, the more than 200,000 women, whose lives and anatomies were torn to shreds by the very war that the peace talks were meant to resolve.

Thus does the United Nations violate its own principles.

But, as FPN rightly notes,

While voices like Lewis’ are most welcome, the reality is male-dominated governments and organizations they run are not going to stop this misogynistic carnage, it is the women that must speak out and take action.

Both Lewis’ speech and the FPN post deserve to be given the RTWDT (read the whole damn thing) treatment.

Related: More from elle, Liss and Pizza Diavola, all of whom link to a number of other excellent posts that provide further information on the situation in the DRC, including this powerful and inspiring offering from SheCodes.  Also see Sokari @ Black Looks (h/t Anxious Black Woman, who has also compiled a wide variety of must-click links on the subject), who notes the irony of Eve Ensler’s “visceral piece of writing” having been published in an inherently misogynistic venue like Glamour Magazine. Sokari also decries the vain hypocrisy of humanitarian ventures that “literally feed on the suffering of others, assigning guilt to victims whilst managing to remove their white selves, their corporate money and power from any responsibility in that suffering.”

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