‘Rape cap­i­tal of the world’: Congo is a coun­try of dev­as­ta­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY HEATHER MUR­DOCK

GOMA, DEMO­CRATIC REPUB­LIC OF THE CONGO | Eleven-year-old Donata tugged at her dark leop­ard-print shirt, squirm­ing af­ter she de­scribed how she had been raped the week be­fore.

Her 9-year-old half sis­ter, Vestina, had been raped at the same time, but she was more forth­com­ing. A lo­cal cowherd had caught her and her two sis­ters on their way home from the mar­ket. The third sis­ter also was hos­pi­tal­ized, but she ran away be­cause she was too hun­gry to stay for treat­ment.

“She left the hos­pi­tal be­cause there is no food,” Donata said. “We only get food in the evenings.”

The girls said their at­tacker had gone to prison. But ac­tivists say that is un­likely.

Rape in Congo is wide­spread and of­ten sys­tem­atic. De­spite a few high-pro­file pros­e­cu­tions this year, ac­tivists say, im­punity for rape is com­mon and sol­diers and civil­ians con­tinue to rape with­out fear of ret­ri­bu­tion.

The United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund says it treated 16,000 rape vic­tims in Congo last year. About half were chil­dren.

Ac­tivists say rape in Congo rips apart lives and com­muni- ties, drives the peo­ple fur­ther into poverty and con­tin­ues to be a weapon in the war that has claimed more than 5 mil­lion lives since it be­gan in 1996.

Dr. En­danda Zawadi cares for Donata and Vestina in a hos­pi­tal in war-torn east­ern Congo, where al­most all of her pa­tients are rape vic­tims. She said about 80 per­cent of her pa­tients re­port that sol­diers from one of the re­gion’s many com­pet­ing mili­tias at­tacked them.

Some­times the at­tacks are ran­dom acts of vi­o­lence, Dr. Zawadi said. But of­ten, sol­diers rape dozens or even hun­dreds of girls and women at a time as a de­lib­er­ate act of war.

“They want to hu­mil­i­ate lo­cal peo­ple,” the doc­tor said. “It’s a way to show that they are pow­er­ful and they can con­trol the whole re­gion.”

Many of the mili­tias com­pet­ing for power in east­ern Congo have been fight­ing since 1996. Af­ter the Rwan­dan geno­cide in 1994, when about 1 mil­lion eth­nic Tut­sis and mod­er­ate Hu­tus were slaugh­tered in 100 days by Hutu ex­trem­ists, refugees flooded into neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

About 2 mil­lion eth­nic Hu­tus fled to Congo, and refugee camps in east­ern Congo be­came home to mili­ti­a­men and un­prece- dented amounts of for­eign aid.

Al­ready in a con­flict-rid­den re­gion, east­ern Congo com­mu­ni­ties be­gan arm­ing them­selves against the grow­ing power of the mili­tias. Makeshift armies sprang up, and the fight­ing even­tu­ally drew six neigh­bor­ing coun­tries into what be­came known as “Africa’s First World War.”

The war tech­ni­cally ended with a 2003 peace agree­ment, and then again in 2008, when the gov­ern­ment and rebel forces signed a power-shar­ing deal. But lo­cals say the bat­tles have only slowed. Mili­tias con­tinue to raid vil­lages and com­pete for what are said to be bil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of min­eral wealth buried in Con­golese soil.

Last year, Congo be­came known as the “Rape Cap­i­tal of the World,” af­ter Mar­got Wall­strom, the U.N.’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive on sex­ual vi­o­lence in con­flict, called for an end to im­punity for rapists. “Women have no rights if those who vi­o­late their rights go un­pun­ished,” she said, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. web­site.

Sev­eral men, in­clud­ing a prom­i­nent of­fi­cer, have been pros­e­cuted this year. Lt. Col. Mu­tu­are Daniel Kibibi was the first of­fi­cer con­victed of or­der­ing mass rapes. He was sen­tenced to 20 years in prison in Fe­bru­ary af­ter he was con­victed of or­der­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the rapes of at least 62 women in the vil­lage of Fizi on New Year’s Day.

Na­dine Lusi, a hu­man­i­tar­ian worker with the East­ern Congo Ini­tia­tive, one of Goma’s many aid or­ga­ni­za­tions, said half of the vil­lage of Fizi was at­tacked that day, dev­as­tat­ing the vic­tims and the com­mu­nity. She wit­nessed lo­cals, packed into the hot Baraka court­room for the trial, riv­eted.

“Ev­ery­one would stand for hours, lis­ten­ing in si­lence,” she said at her home in Goma.

When the sen­tence was read, vil­lagers were livid be­cause Kibibi did not re­ceive the death sen­tence that pros­e­cu­tors sought. “When the guy was sen­tenced, the crowd screamed,” she said.

The next month, in an­other much-watched case, 11 of­fi­cers were con­victed of or­der­ing and car­ry­ing out the rapes of 24 women in Kata­somwa. Eight of the men were tried in ab­sen­tia and were given life sen­tences. The re­main­ing three — the ones who ap­peared in court — were given 15 years in prison.

Ac­tivists in east­ern Congo say that while these con­vic­tions mark a pos­i­tive step, mili­tias con­tinue to at­tack vil­lages, loot­ing and rap­ing. Vic­tims are women, girls, boys and some­times even ba­bies. The con­vic­tions af­fect only a tiny frac­tion of the per­pe­tra­tors.

Dr. Ange Rose Val­i­mamdi su­per­vises the sex­ual vi­o­lence pro­gram at Car­i­tas in Goma, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that of­fers med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal help for rape vic­tims. She said about 10 per­cent of ac­cused rapists are con­victed, and the vast ma­jor­ity of rapes are never re­ported.

In the small wooden house that serves as head­quar­ters, she named three Con­golese vil­lages that she knows are at­tacked by mili­tias on monthly, weekly or even daily ba­sis.

“When there are at­tacks on the vil­lages,” she said, “the women are mas­sively raped.”

Ser­vices are avail­able in Congo to those who have been raped, but most women suf­fer in si­lence, Dr. Val­i­mamdi said. She es­ti­mates that aid or­ga­ni­za­tions have the ca­pac­ity to meet 80 per­cent of re­port­ing vic­tims’ med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal needs.

But aid or­ga­ni­za­tions and the world’s largest U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion can do lit­tle to pre­vent the at­tacks, phys­i­cally or legally, she added.

“They need jus­tice,” she said. “They want to see peo­ple com­mit­ting crimes brought to jus­tice.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.