Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

DR Congo: Women, principal victims of the war

by Gustavo Barreto, 06/01/2008, from the Fazendo Media

In the next-to-last week of 2007, one more international organization focused attention on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (RDC), a country that experienced a civil war from 1998 and whose end happened “officially” in 1994. Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an organization that works principally in the area of health with countries in situations of intense social, political and ethnic conflict, highlighted in its year-end report a list of 10 humanitarian crises that lack the proper attention of the international media.

Regarding DRC and Colombia, highlights the MSF, “both countries are still devastated by a current civil war and massive internal dislocations of civilians have dominated the list in the last decade, each one of them appear on it nine times.“ One of the principal concerns of the article is the eastern province of Northern Kivu, where conflicts so devastating have developed in local communities.

More than a year after the first democratic elections in decades, which supposedly would bring stability to this region in conflict, the confrontations between armed groups continued in Northern Kivu. Supported by Monuc, the United Nations force, the government is now in open battle with the forces of the rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda. A great number of different groups such as the Mai Mai and the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR, the acronym in English) are involved in the conflict,” affirms the report .

The body also states that hundreds of thousands of people had to leave their homes in 2006 and 2007, many of them suffered displacements numerous times, “Frequently, the displaced are forced to hide in the forest, with little access to food or access to basic health or are under constant threat of attack by several armed groups.” With that, the dislocated Congolese become increasingly vulnerable to easily treatable diseases and conditions such as malnutrition, malaria, respiratory infections and obstetric complications.

It is estimated, according to the first article of the series in Fazendo Media about the RDC (“ rich Countries maintain constant war in the Congo “), that 5 million people died since the official beginning of the conflicts, in 1998, not only because of the violence, but also by illnesses neglected in the country, such as malaria and measles. The country has a population of 54 million, in direct decline because of the humanitarian crisis.

In the second part of the special from Fazendo Media, we will discuss an aspect that Doctors Without Frontiers considers “particularly disturbing” about the conflict: the alarming rate of sexual violence. In Northern Kivu, the body claims to have treated more than 2.375 victims of sexual violence between January and October of 2007. In the district of Ituri, the scene of the conflict between different armed groups that operate in North Kivu, 150 thousand internally displaced are still unable to return home. Through the Hospital Bon Marché in Bunia, capital of the region of Ituri, MSF treated 7.400 victims of rape during the last four years. More than one-fifth of these persons were hospitalized during the past 18 months.

Drug trafficking aggravates the problem

Besides the issue of drug trafficking, another body present in the region “Amnesty International” has also warned about the problem of rape and humiliation of women in the region. The report “Central African Republic: Five months of war against women” (“ Central office African Republic: Five months of war against women “), November 2004, documents acts committed by combatants in this country and of the neighboring Chad and Congo. The report denounces the occurrence of mass rape in the Central African Republic (RCA). In the document, the human rights organization says that the international community should supply human and material resources and ensure that the government of the country protects the rights of the women and girls who suffer from sexual abuse.

According to the report, hundreds of women and girls were subjected to rapes, sexual abuse and other forms of violence between the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003. Most of the reported rapes happened exactly in the north of Bangui, in the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From eight-year-old girls to women over 60 were raped, according to information of local humanitarian organizations. Many were attacked in the home or while they were escaping combat zones. Many other people died. The relatives that tried to save them also were threatened or murdered. In some cases, boys were forced to have sex with theirown mothers and sisters.

Despite provisions in thecentral African Penal Code on rapes and other forms of sexual violence, the government did nothing to protect the victims, did not punish the criminals and denied at the time that the crimes took place, accuses Amnesty.

In 2004, the World Health Organization estimated that there were 25 thousand survivors of sexual violence in South Kivu, the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a number well short on the side of the reality, according to local organizations. “I am sure that in this province more than 100 thousand women were victims of rape,” said activist Christine Schuler-Deschryver that year. Schuler-Deschryver was in Bukavu, the capital of the province, and she took a census of more than 14 thousand cases of rape (read our previous article on the denunciations of Schuler-Deschryver ).

Since November 2002, the Development Program of the United Nations (UNDP) finances a project to aid the victims of rape in the RCA. Care to the victims includes medical and psychological aid, but the OH says that women who suffered experiences such as these also need access to justice, impartial investigations to identify the culprits, compensation and access to information.

The report to the UN Human Development (IDH) in 2000 showed that among 173 countries surveyed, the Congo appeared in the position of number 152. Behind it to a great extent are African countries including Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Among 190 countries, the Congo has the ninth highest child mortality rate up to 5 years (UNICEF, 2000), of 207 children for every 1.000 births.

In 1998, the country received only 126 million dollars in official aid (UNDP, 2000). Just by way of comparison, in April of 2003 the Department of Defense of the United States raised US$ 1.7 billion in assistance to "rescue" (after the intense bombing of civilians, a typical war crime) and the “reconstruction” of Iraq. The CIA recognizes the existence of the country, highlighting in its report, at the outset, that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is “one of the largest producers of oil in Africa.”

History of the control of light arms in the world

Light arms, unlike many groups who argue that this is supposed to be a false issue, is an important source of income for some developed countries and an engine for modern globalized genocide. In June 2006, leaders of the international community met in New York to discuss the Action Program of the United Nations against Light Arms. The regulation of international trade in this category of armaments, for example, is still a taboo among the most powerful nations.

It was precisely the genocide in Rwanda, together with other conflicts and atrocities in Central and Western Africa, that this question came to the surface in the world and, specifically, in the case of the UN. It is estimated that 35 of the 191 member countries of the United Nations control nearly 90 % of the worldwide exports of light arms. Between 1997 and 2004, the share of developing countries in the worldwide import of these goods reached 68.5 %. They are the weapons used in most of the serious attacks to human rights listed by Amnesty International, and for 85 % of the deaths that they caused.

Seven of the G8 countries ­­– Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States – are among the largest exporters. The exception is Japan and, as I already reported here, China also stands out in this setting. These States feed on military equipment, weapons and ammunition in the regions in which massive violations happen to the rights of the person. It is what the OH report indicates “Arms-exporting countries of the G8 and irresponsible arms transfers” (“Les pays exportateurs du G8 d'armes et les transferts d'armes irresponsable“), June 2005.

Some gaps and weaknesses, common to the laws on arms exports in most of the countries of the G8, contradict their commitment on behalf of poverty reduction, stability and human rights. This arms traffic reaches some of the poorest countries of the world most devastated by the conflicts, including Sudan, Miamar (Burma), the Republic of the Congo, Colombia and the Philippines. Second, Brian Wood, author of article on the subject in Le Monde Diplomatique in June 2006, writes “exports of the major powers are supplemented by competitors so as growing in average importance, mainly Brazil, Israel, Holland, Singapore, North Korea and South Africa.”

Wood concludes: “These are the suppliers who form the heart of the competition in the worldwide market in arms, frequently working together with transport and finance agents. Barely around 30 countries have laws that regulate this activity. Therefore, these people hardly fear punishment, while collaborating with public officials on the sale of arms at good pricesfor political leaders, military leaders and even leaders of rebel guerrillas.”

In July of 2005, Wood recalls, a report from Amnesty International called “Democratic Republic of the Congo: the flow of arms bound for the east” (“ République démocratique du Congo: Les flux d’armes à destination de l’est “) July 2005, revealed that large quantities of weapons and ammunition were transferred from the Balkans and Eastern Europe to the African Great Lakes region, as was described in the case of China.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (RDC), the deliveries have continued to occur in spite of the peace process initiated in 2002 and the United Nations arms embargo.
“The brokers and transporters involved in the trafficking of arms to the region of the Great Lakes come from such diverse countries such as Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States. It is possible to trace the route of arms and ammunition to the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, and then the distribution of weapons to militias and other armed groups in the region east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, these groups are dedicated to atrocities that can be qualified as war crimes or crimes against humanity," argues Wood.

The proliferation of weapons, especially of light weapons, has in general a lasting impact, as in the Mano river region, in West Africa, with catastrophic consequences in Liberia and in Sierra Leone. For Wood, several testimonies signal proliferation, recycling and perhaps new arrivals of light arms in the Ivory Coast, despite the United Nations embargo that was voted on in November 2004. The easy access to light weapons in these countries contributes to sabotaging the process of disarmament, of demobilization and of reintegration, and it encouraged violations of the ceasefire, inter-ethnic conflicts in the west and the persistent use of child soldiers.

After this opaque, but obvious process of marketing illegal weapons involving rich countries, international middlemen and local corrupt governments, crises are set off and the international community is demonstrating astonishment by the events - either through ignorance, either by cynicism, or by opportunism. It is in this context that the statements of the White House are despised, to name two most recent cases contrary to their declarations invested in the military governments of Turkey (October 2007) and Pakistan (November 2007) against their own people, followed by frequent disregard for fundamental rights and civil liberties.

The illustrative case in Pakistan

In the case of the recent political crisis in Pakistan, which emerged in the media but is common in the context of violations of national rights, the United States has made it clear that they would not suspend military aid to Pakistan in response to the state of exception decreed by President Pervez Musharraf . The information was given by a spokesman for the Pentagon on November 3, 2007. "Today, the declaration does not affect our military support to Pakistani efforts in the war against terrorism," said the press secretary of the Pentagon, Geoff Morrell, adding that is neither expected or imminent, to review military aid to that country.

The American Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who was scheduled to travel to China, has no immediate plans to meet with his Pakistani colleague to review the decision of Musharraf, according to Morrell. According to the news agency Presse de France, Morrell has made it clear that "Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terrorism, and he [the Secretary of Defense] is following very closely the events that happen there (...) This is something that we follow very closely during the week. He is clear, on the part of several people from our government, that we are disappointed with the decision of General Musharraf to declare a state of exception" in Pakistan, he satisfied himself with saying.

The "disappointment" of Gates is not sufficient to ban the military businesses that the two countries maintain, demonstrating the close relationship between the rich countries and the resulting violations of basic refugee rights and political rights for the world. The growing anti-Americanism in the Middle East is a direct consequence of the military and financial support that the United States has given corrupt and authoritarian governments, as is notable in the case of Pakistan and Turkey, to continue in the two examples cited.

The situation currently existing in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most notable cases of neglect by the international media, corrupted by minor or petty disputes. The international news in Brazilandaround the world,ideologized by political disputes -almost always by the influence of rich countries and military - make us believe that leaders like Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran), Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Fidel Castro (Cuba), are champions of negative images in the press, and are the major "threat to world peace."

They quoted the words "threat" and "world peace," because in a world in which occurs today, with the knowledge of leaders of the international community, a crisis like that of the RDC, there is no "threat," since anything even close to "world peace" did not exist. This behavior of the press and the international community only alerts us about our false democracy and the devastating degree of hypocrisy, repeatedly, over decades of contempt for human beings considered inferior.

Read the abstract below of Eve Ensler‘s report, which highlighted the last two matters on the RDC:

Summary of the report of Eve Ensler in the Security Council of the United Nations

Again the hell. Desperately looking for a way to tell you what I saw and heard in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Looking for a way to tell you the stories and the atrocities and, at the same time, prevent them being slaughtered, traumatized or mentally affected. Looking for a way of bringing you my evidence without shouting, without sacrificing me or without looking for an AK 47.

I am not the first person who denounced the rapes, the mutilation and disfigurement of the women of the Congo. There are reports about this problem from 2000. I am not the first one that counts these stories, but as a writer and activist against sexual violence against women, I live in a world of rape. I spent ten years listening to the stories of women raped, tortured, burned and mutilated in Bosnia, Kosovo, the United States, Juarez City (Mexico), Kenya, Pakistan, Haiti, the Philippines, Iraq and Afghanistan. And despite knowing that it is dangerous to compare atrocities and suffering, nothing of what I had heard so far was as horrible and terrifying as the destruction of the female species in the Congo.

The situation is not any more than a feminicide and we recognize that and analyze as it is. It is a state of emergency. Women are raped and murdered all the time. The crimes against the body of the woman are already horrible for you. However, we must add this: because of a superstition that says a man who violates women very young or very old gets special powers, girls of less than twelve years of age and women more than eighty years of age are victims of rape.

It is also necessary to add the rapes of women in front of their husbands and children. But the greater cruelty is the next one: Seropositive (HIV) soldiers organize commands in the villages to violate women, mutilate them… There are reports of hundreds of cases of fistulas in the vagina and in the rectum caused by the introduction of clubs, weapons, sticks or collective violations. These women are no longer able to control their urine or feces. After being raped women are abandoned by their family and their community.

However, the most terrible crime is the passivity of the international community, from government institutions, the media… the total indifference of the world to this extermination.

I spent two weeks in Bukavu and Goma to interview the survivors. Some were from Bunia. I effectuated at least eight hours of interviews a day. I had lunch and went to therapy sessions with these women. I cried with them. The level of atrocities is beyond the imagination. I had not seen this type of violence anywhere, of sexual torture, cruelty and barbarism. In eastern Congo there is a climate of violence. In this zone the rapes have become, as I said to a survivor, a "national sport."

Women are less than second class citizens. The animals are treated better. It seems that all troops are involved in rapes: the FDLR, the Interahamwe [Rwandan Hutu genocídes], the Congolese army and the UN peacekeeping forces. The lack of prevention, protection and the absence of sanctions are alarming.

I spent one week at the Hospital of Panzi, to live in a village of women raped and tortured. It was like a scene from a futuristic horror movie. I heard stories of women who saw their children being cynically and brutally murdered. Women who were forced, under threat with weapons, to eat excrement, to drink urine or eat dead babies. Women who were witnesses of the genital mutilation of their husbands or raped for weeks by groups of men. These women were queued to tell me their stories. The injuries were massive and the suffering extremely deep. I sat down with women who had been cruelly abandoned by their families, excluded because of their smell and by what they had suffered.

I want to talk to you about Noella. I changed the name to protect herbecausesheis onlynine years of age. Noella lives inside of me now, pursuing me, leads me to take action, to remember. She is lean, very intelligent and lively. The damage is in her slightly twisted, ashamed, worried body. She feels anxiety in her small fingers. She begins to tell her story as if she were still living it. For her time has stopped.

"One night the Interahamwe came to our house. They left nothing. They plundered our house. They took my mother to one side, my father to another and me to another. They took me to a bush. One of them put something inside me. I do not know what it was. One said to another, do not do this, do not do harm to a child. The other beat me. I was bleeding. He hit me more and I fell. Then they abandoned me. I spent two weeks with the soldiers. They raped me constantly. Sometimes they were using sticks. One day they left me in the bush. I tried to walk to my uncle’s house. I did, but was too weak. He had a fever. It was very bad. I reached the house. My father had been killed. My mother returned, but in very poor condition. I started to lose urine and feces without control. Then my mother realized that they had violated and destroyed me. They recorded what had happened and brought me here. I am glad to be here. I do not notice the urine and nobody laughs at me. The boys laugh at me. I am already not ashamed. God will judge those men, because they know not what they are doing. I want to recover. I also think about how they killed my father. Whenever I think about my father the tears whitewash down my face."

Dr. Mukwege who, as far as I can tell, is a type of medical "saint" in the hospital, told me that the urethra of Noella is destroyed. Being so young, she does not have enough tissue to operate. You have to wait eight years. Eight years of shame and humiliation. Eight years in which she will be forced to remember every day what those men did to her in the forest before she was even old enough to know what a penis was. She is incontinent. The doctor told me: "What happens to these young people is terrible. They are very afraid to be touched by men. Sometimes it takes weeks before I manage to treat them. I give them chocolates and bring them dolls."

Women suffer immensely. They are weakened by the rape, the torture and brutality. They have virtually no support. After surviving these atrocities they are unable to work in the fields or carry heavy things, therefore they stop having an income. I saw them bringing at least twelve women per day to this village. They were coming hobbling and supported by hand made walking sticks. Several women told me that "forests were smelling of death" and that "it could not be possible to go even five steps without stumbling on a body.”

During the week that I spent in Panzi, the government cut the water and, therefore, the hospital where there were hundreds of injured women was left without water. The same hospital which the women had traveled to for more than sixty kilometers because there was no other nearby. The same hospital where there was nothing to eat (two children died of malnutrition one day), where the women would stay for months, sometimes years, because their villages were so dangerous or because they were so rejected, after having been raped and disgraced, who had no place in which to return, where women could not make a complaint because the violators could easily buy their exit out of the prison, return and rape them again, or kill them.

And while we are here to write our report, there are women who are being raped, girls are being destroyed forever, women who are to be witnesses of the murder (the cutlass blow) of their families and others who are being infected by the AIDS virus. Where is our outrage? Where is the conscience of the people?

In 1999, I went back to the United States from a trip to Afghanistan that was still under the power of the Taliban. The conditions of women, the violence ...was a madness. I went to all people that I managed to find, TV channels, magazines, leaders etc. With the exception of a magazine, no one seemed interested in the problem of Afghan women. At that time I knew that if one does not intervene, if the world does not raise and help women, there would be serious international consequences. We know what happened then. Not only September 11th, but the reaction to September 11, the ruin of Iraq, the justification for the preemptive attacks, the increased militarization, violence and terror that still continues to increase

Women are the heart of any culture and society. Although they may not have power or rights, as they are treated, as they are, or are not valued, indicates what the society feels regarding life itself. The women of Congo are resistant, powerful, visionary and supportive. With few resources they could be leaders of the country and take it from its current state of chaos, poverty and disorder, or they maybeannihilated and, with them, the future of the country.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the heart of Africa, the dynamic centre and the promise of the future. If we allow the destruction of women, life is killed, not only of the Congo, but the entire African continent. I am here as an artist and activist, but I am here mainly as a human being destroyed by what I heard in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I am here to implore you, those who have the power to declare a state of emergency in the eastern Congo, to give a name to what is being done to women: feminicide. To join with our international campaign to stop the violations of the best resource of the Congo and empowering women and young girls of the Congo. To develop the mechanisms to protect these women, to stop these horrible and inhuman crimes.

Recommendations to end the violence against women and young girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the impunity for sexual violence must end. Despite hundreds of thousands of women and girls raped, there was virtually no prosecution. It is the duty of the entire international community to strengthen mechanisms in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure that violators are brought to justice and victims protected through lawsuits. (More women judges and more women in the police and lawyers are essential for this to happen).

It is envisaged that the Security Council go to the Democratic Republic of the Congo next week [July 2007]. It is important that they:

a) Speak with the Government seriously on the subject of sexual violence. They must address this issue with the President and ask specifically what he is doing to ensure that the military (who are more those who commit these crimes) do not commit crimes of sexual violence and that the commanders are held responsible for actions of their troops and that the soldiers also brought to justice.

b) To meet with the parliament and the elected authorities, the Security Council must insist that we establish a parliamentary commission on sexual violence. It should also appeal to initiate a public debate with the Defense Minister on this issue.

The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) should establish a unit to combat sexual violence, including military and civilian staff, to give priority to "answer given to survivors of sexual violence and the protection of women and children, about everything in Goma and Bakuvu." Countries that contribute troops also have to have a more active role by sending women as soldiers of peace.

The member states and the United Nations must show their commitment to end the violence against women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo through the allocation of significant financial resources. There are some good projects, for example the Panzi Hospital, but this is very little when considering the enormous needs and the magnitude of violence. We need more resources that could be used to support, for example, radio/television programs by women about women's rights, violence against women and other important issues that need to be addressed to break the silence on sexual violence.

The members of the Security Council of the United Nations should request the Secretary-General to provide a report on the situation of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This report must be received by the Council in a timely manner (3 months).

The text of Eve Ensler, originally published on June 15, 2007 in the Tlaxcala, a network of translators for linguistic diversity. Translation into Portuguese: Cristina Santos, a member Tlaxcala. This translation can be reproduced freely on the condition that its integrity is respected, as well as the words to the author, translators, proofreaders and the source. Original here.

Connected texts:

38 thousand dead. Every month (Making Media, February 2006)

China: Support for conflicts and abuses of human rights (Amnesty International, June 2006)

Read the articles of Eve Ensler translated into Portuguese in Tlaxcala

Exhibition of photos of Doctors Without Borders in the RDC (I)

Exhibition of photos of Doctors Without Borders in the RDC (II)

Who is afraid of the control of small arms (Brian Wood, Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2006)


in Portuguese version


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