As the fighting in the North Kivu region of the DRC continues, women and girls continue to be the targets of much of the violence. They are frequent victims of brutal rapes.
Bob Kitchen is the head of emergency operations in the DRC for the International Rescue Committee. From Goma, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the current situation.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks of calm, but in the past two weeks the situation has become much, much worse. As bad, if not worse as it’s been since we’ve been here. There’s been a lot of open conflict in the last week around the Rutshuru territory and that of course has had a significant impact on the civilian populations with a lot of displacement. A number of communities that we received reports of have been forced from their homes. Entire communities have been forced from their homes at gunpoint…as the towns have changed hands from one rebel group to another. And of course the women of these communities are taking a very specific and a very long lasting painful impact,” he says.
The Rutshuru region is northwest of Goma, bordering Rwanda and Uganda. Various rebel groups in the area are trying to win control of a main supply road.
Reports from the DRC have said some women have been raped so many times it’s impossible for them to fully heal.
Kitchen says, “In the last few weeks, we’ve seen cases of very, very significant violent acts, where women have come to us bleeding terribly to the point where we’ve had to medically evacuate them out of the towns and out of the territories for them to receive significant surgical interventions. And this is life-saving intervention at this point. They’ve been beaten and raped so badly. We’ve seen very, very young girls…below the age of 15 being raped my multiple attackers. So, the situation here is very, very bad in terms of the severity and also of the frequency of the occurrences of rape. It’s happening all the time. It’s happening in the hands of all of the parties to the conflict. It’s not just the rebels. And all of the women irrespective of their ethnicity, their tribe or their political affiliation are being impacted.”
The attacks often come as women and girls collect water or food.
The International Rescue Committee is among the agencies helping those who’ve been affected by the long conflict, including the many women who’ve been raped.
“The IRC is now providing free and high quality health care to more than 140,000 people across this territory. We’re working in 12 of the 17 health centers. We’re trying to get to the last five, but the situation continues to be very dangerous out there. We’re providing clean water to more than 30,000 people…we’ve started programming in two locations where women are able to access free clinical management of rape services and then follow-on case management and psychological support programming so they can start the recovery process from these very, very violent attacks,” he says.
Kitchen says the IRC and others have spoken with UN and international officials about the situation. “It’s a common message to all of them that a military solution is not a lasting solution. Until we establish security within North Kivu we’re not going to find peace.”