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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More