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Congo: Mass Rape a Weapon of War
Victims of sexual violence need your help
Joan M. Dawson (joanied40)     Email Article  Print Article 
  Published 2007-01-02 15:53 (KST)   
Japan had "comfort women," Yugoslavia had rape camps, and Rwanda had mass rapes. There's a long history of the use of rape during war, but the Democratic Republic of the Congo has had such a horrendous mass rape, words do not exist in the English language to adequately describe it. How can humanity ignore such atrocities as mass rape committed on women and girls as young as twelve months old?

An abolitionist once said, "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them."

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The Congolese have quietly submitted to an injustice that is horrific in nature due to a lack of commitment by the government. Meanwhile, the international community seems just as indifferent.

While the international community's attention has been averted to Iraq, Iran, North Korea, even Darfur, anywhere from 40,000 (World Health Organization) to up to a quarter million women, young girls, and some men have been brutally raped in Congo.

Since 1994, ethnic strife and civil war has ravaged Congo. Having lost almost four million people, it is the bloodiest conflict since WWII. A cease-fire in 1999 went unheeded by soldiers, mostly those in the eastern region.

In 2003, a transitional government was set up, and, in 2006, Congo witnessed a multi-party election. Joseph Kabila was elected as president, which generated some fighting itself. The government continues to struggle to gain control over fighting in the eastern region of the country. Fighting just broke out on Dec. 27, killing 19 people.

The U.N. has some 17,500 peacekeepers in Congo. Disturbingly, there have been sexual abuse scandals that have marred their efforts in Congo. Nonetheless, it is the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping force in the world.

The following passages attempt to summarize the atrocities people in Congo have faced.

The information is very graphic and will upset sensitive readers, but it's meant to capture the reality of the situation.

Women, ranging in age from 12 months to 71, have been raped by soldiers. Often they were gang raped. The women were beaten or tortured. Soldiers use rifles, knives, wood, glass, nails, and stones to rape women and girls tearing into their very innards.

The soldiers sometimes shot the women during or after the rape, often point blank into their vaginas. Many soldiers intentionally tried not to kill the woman -- they wanted them to live through it. Some set the woman's buttocks on fire or made them sit on hot coals after the rape. At times, the fighters killed their family members in front of them. In addition to the physical and psychological trauma, these women were subject to sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, fistulas, and stigmatization.

Women and girls seek treatment at medical facilities for fistulas, tears between the vagina and anus due to the forced entry of objects. Often they are leaking urine or feces as they come into the clinic. Only 70 percent of these cases can be treated. The rest are sent home.

Approximately 30 percent of these women will be HIV positive. Psychologically, the women may never be cured. Not only do they suffer from physical complications but also they suffer from widespread discrimination and rejection by their husbands and communities. As a result, some have turned to prostitution. Some have borne children who are also subject to the same humiliation and rejection.

Soldiers not only raped their victims. They also burned homes, abducted boys as soldiers, and turned girls into sexual slaves and cooks.

And while some people may think that it is worse for male soldiers to get killed than for women and girls to be raped, I say this: It is only recently that the U.N. considered mass rape to be a war crime. In the past, mass rapes have either been ignored or punished lightly. Unfortunately, it is still being treated with impunity.

Secondly, many of these women also witness their husbands being killed in front of them. This is tragic to the men who lose their lives and traumatizing to the women who witness it. Make no doubt, it is meant to terrorize the women.

Furthermore, when their husbands are killed, they face economic hardship and potential for further exploitation and abuse, as the documented cases of abusive U.N. peacekeepers have demonstrated.

Thirdly, when the women are raped and the men are spared, the husbands often leave the women because of the stigma of rape or the stigma of fistulas. Fistulas can leave women incontinent, infertile, leaking feces or urine, or without vaginas or rectums.

Lastly, many of these women had no part in the decision making to have a conflict, nor will it be likely they will have a say in a peaceful resolution. They are merely "token" rapes in a brutal conflict for power, the very thing they lack.

Mass rape and sexual slavery has a long history. It will continue to happen as long as there is gender bias in laws, discrimination against women, and conflict.

Governments must hold soldiers accountable for their crimes. They must not sanction such barbaric behavior. Impunity is allowing mass rape to take place. Nations must get tougher on such crimes and improve security for their citizens.

Non-profit organizations work with sexual violence victims in Congo, but according to one activist, "The NGOs do all they can to help the victims, but still it's like a drop of water... We need a national programme, properly coordinated and funded."

As individuals we can play a role, too.

Write to the U.N. Human Rights Council to increase funding for the Congo mission. Write to President Kabila at pr@presidentrdc.cd asking him to hold soldiers accountable.

To be effective, be specific in your request, and, as always, refrain from profanity or insults.

Also, consider donating to overseas organizations that work with victims of sexual violence, such as Doctors Without Borders or the International Rescue Committee.

Panzi Hospital works with sexual violence victims in Congo. They may accept donations directly, too. Finally, we must all do our part to value and respect all members of society to prevent discrimination and abuse from occurring.

As Einstein said, "The world is a dangerous place to live in, not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen."

It is time we take a stand.

- "Congo: Mass Rape A Weapon of War," by Joan Dawson 

Further Information

Congo's Wounds of War, Newsweek
The Lesser of Two Evils, Economist
Mass Rape, Time for Remedies, Amnesty International

CNN interview with President Joseph Kabila

Jewels in the Jungle (third post down)
Congo's Savage Conflict, Environment News Service
Sexual Violence in the Congo, Human Rights Watch

Information for donations

Doctors Without Borders
International Rescue Committee

Information on Panzi Hospital

Panzi Hospital
Panzi Hospital Report
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Joan M. Dawson

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