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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid