News / Africa

Rape Victims in Congo Call for Justice

Congolese patients and rape victims learn to use sewing machines at the Heal Africa clinic in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 4, 2011
Congolese patients and rape victims learn to use sewing machines at the Heal Africa clinic in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 4, 2011
Heather Murdock

United Nations officials have called the Democratic Republic of Congo "the rape capital of the world" and railed against the atmosphere of impunity that allows soldiers and civilians to rape women and children without fear of arrest. This year, several soldiers have been convicted of rape in Congo, including a prominent colonel, offering a glimmer of hope for victims. But Congolese doctors say rape is still a weapon in the simmering conflict in eastern Congo, that is often unreported, and hardly ever prosecuted.

Last summer a soldier living in her house told Amina to make him a fire before he raped her. She is now 13, and her baby is due in May.

Amina says the rapist told her not to tell anyone and threatened to shoot her. She said she kept silent until her parents noticed she was pregnant. She is too young to have a baby, Amina said, and also that people are laughing at her.

Amina was raped by a soldier living in her house last summer, and her baby is expected in May. UNICEF workers say they assisted 16,000 rape victims in Congo in 2010, about half of which were children.
Amina was raped by a soldier living in her house last summer, and her baby is expected in May. UNICEF workers say they assisted 16,000 rape victims in Congo in 2010, about half of which were children.

The man who raped her, she said, was arrested, tried and will be sentenced to jail. The Congolese man sitting next to her said he doubts that will ever happen. He thinks her rapist probably will go free.

Challenging impunity

Doctor Ange Rose Valimamdi, the supervisor for the sexual violence program at Caritas in Goma, one of the region’s many aid organizations, said rape victims in eastern Congo are everywhere. Often, it is a weapon of war, used to terrorize the population and force villagers from their homes. But just as frequently, she said, it is random acts of violence committed by soldiers and civilians who feel they have nothing to fear from the law.

Valimamdi said less than 10 percent of rape cases in Congo that go to court end up with a conviction, and the vast majority are never even reported. Aid organizations usually have the capacity to provide emergency care to women who come forward, she said, but they have no way to stop the rapes. Some villages in the region are attacked by militias over and over again. Women, children, and even sometimes men are raped and homes are looted. Just last week, she said, armed soldiers not far from Goma raped seven women. Like many rural women, they were surrounded by soldiers and attacked while working in the fields.

Valimamdi said recent figures compiled by aid agencies suggest a 25 percent increase in the number of rapes in her province of North Kivu in 2010. The increase could be skewed, she adds, cautioning that it also might indicate an increase in the number of reports.

Commonplace crime

But she said mass rapes - like the New Year’s day attack on the village of Fizi, where at least 62 women were raped - are still commonplace in eastern Congo, despite the recent conviction of 12 soldiers.

An army colonel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the Fizi attack. Last month, 11 other soldiers were found guilty of rape, pillaging, destroying schools, and kidnapping, in a landmark case hailed by the U.N. as a move towards justice.  

Valimamdi says  convictions of rapists remain very rare, however, even if they offer some hope for a solution to what seems to be an insurmountable problem. In North Kivu alone, she said, she knows of two villages that often are attacked by local militias.

Displaced survivors

Jennifer Melton, a child protection specialist for UNICEF, said the agency assisted 16,000 rape survivors in Congo in 2010, including women, men, girls and boys. About half were children, raped by militias or civilians, sometimes even in schools. Melton said that in some parts of Congo, rape is a part of the conflict.

But in other areas, she said, when soldiers commit rape, it is not meant to be a weapon. It is simply a part of the culture of conflict that has grown up over decades of instability, and a war that claimed about 5.5 million lives between 1998 and 2008. Technically, the war ended in 2003, but locals say the fighting never really stopped.

"They’re going through a village and the whole attitude of rape and pillage - that is a benefit of kind of being a soldier with a gun and with a uniform," said Melton.

Breaking a bitter cycle

Melton said even when rape is not a specific war tactic, it contributes to the endless cycle of poverty and displacement that feeds the conflict. The U.N. refugee agency says more than 2 million people have fled their homes in recent years, and are living in camps, or crowding into cities or other villages.

In a hospital in Goma, 40-year-old Chantal said her village, Fumandu, is abandoned.  Militiamen have burned their homes, and raped most of the women over the course of multiple attacks.

Chantal said last October she was raped by three soldiers. She said nothing at first, but then got sick, and sought medical treatment.  When she recovers, though, she said she cannot go home.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs