News / Africa

Activists: Prosecution of Rapists in DRC Hampered by Flawed Laws

Justine Masika runs Synergy of Women for Victim of Sexual Violence. She says while rape convictions are more common these days, the rich and powerful still enjoy impunity.
Justine Masika runs Synergy of Women for Victim of Sexual Violence. She says while rape convictions are more common these days, the rich and powerful still enjoy impunity.
Heather Murdock

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. One recent report from the American Journal of Public Health estimates a woman is raped almost every minute in Congo. In North Kivu, one of the country’s most volatile provinces, officials say efforts to prosecute rapists are frustrated by flawed laws that pack prisons with poor young men while real rapists roam free in the countryside.

In the regional capital of Goma, central prison inmates have no beds or blankets and eat only a few hundred calories a day. Many say their only crime was being poor.

Serving his second of a 15-year sentence, Edouard, who provided no last name, says his troubles started when he fell in love and got married. His wife’s family originally agreed to the match for a nine-goat dowry, but Edouard had only three goats -- worth about $150. His brothers-in-law took him to the police and accused him of rape.

Jules Simpeze, Regional Justice Ministry Detention Specialist, says Edouard’s case is common. Of the 400 men in the central prison incarcerated for rape, he says, 380 are non-violent offenders.

Most violent rapes take place in the countryside, far from law enforcement officials, says Simpeze. By the time a victim can report a rape -- often perpetrated by members of armed groups that operate outside the law -- the assailant is long gone.

Unfair laws

Simpeze says the men in prison for rape are usually convicted under Congo’s 2006 rape law, which makes the age of sexual consent for a female 18 years of age. But some say the law is flawed because families in the countryside often do not know the age of consent, and their daughters typically marry much younger. According to the United Nations, the majority of girls in the Congo marry between the ages of 15 and 19, which leaves young husbands vulnerable to accusations of statutory rape when families squabble over dowries.

Defense attorney Frank August Muteba-Mukute says it is not just disputes over money that create bogus charges. Since the laws were enforced, he says, people have also used them to punish enemies.

Regional Minister of Justice Francois Tuyihimbaze Rucogoza agrees the rape laws do not account for local customs, but he defends them as necessary, arguing that strict law enforcement has reduced sexual violence in Congo by creating a deterrent. Written under pressure from international aid organizations that help Congolese rape victims, Rucogoza says organizations inflate statistics to attract donors and pressure law enforcement to fill jails cells, with actual rapists or not.

Despite the relative success of Congolese rape laws -- since their 2006 enactment, more people now know rape is a jailable offense -- Rucogoza says the rough terrain of rural Congo allows many violent rapists to elude law enforcement. Roughly the size of Western Europe, the Congolese countryside is hard to travel, with thick jungles, few or no roads in many places, and sparring militias.

But activists say without strict rape laws and constant pressure to enforce them, the flood of victims pouring into hospitals and aid centers will never cease.

Justine Masika, director of "Synergy of Women for Victims of Sexual Violence," while the government has prosecuted more rapists in recent years, it is still only the poor who go to prison.

Despite the increasing number of convictions, she says rich people, high-ranking officials and militants do not usually go to jail for rape, but poor men with young wives often do.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid