Monday, December 21, 2009

Rape as a Weapon of War in the DR Congo

"There is an Epidermic of Rape in DR Congo that has Reached Epic Proportions." Between January and September 2009, the United Nations (UN) has recorded more than 7,500 cases of sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). As if this is not enough, 1,400 civilians were killed during the same period. In an earlier post, "Africa's First World War: The Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo," I painted a picture of the conflict in the DRC. Research shows that the conflict is the "biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet." and it's the "world's deadliest war since World War II." The situation is degenerating. On 18 December, Human Rights Watch announced that the atrocities continue in the DR. Congo. Rape is used as a weapon of war in the region. Women and children are hardest hit.

"They killed my husband with a machete and two of them raped me." This is the story of a woman who was abducted by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), during an attack on Busheke village in late January 2009. "They killed my father and raped my mother and sister before killing them as well, with a machete. They abducted me and brought me to their camp where I was made the "wife" of Captain Jean Claude. He raped me everyday."

Another woman, who lost six members of her family when the Congolese army attacked Shalio hill on April 27, 2009, said, "They were all beaten to death by wooden clubs in front of me. Then four of the soldiers took me and raped me. They told me that I'm the wife of an FDLR and they can do whatever the want with me." Notice that the former woman was raped by rebels while the latter was raped by government armed forces. That's the plight of the Congolese women.

Civilians are caught in the cross-fire between rebel militia groups like the FDLR and the UN-backed Congolese army forces. The rebels and soldiers accuse villagers of supporting the enemy and "punish" them by attacking them with machetes, and not stopping short of raping women and girls. In some cases, the women and girls are abducted and forced into sexual slavery. Those trying to flee are killed.

The point of interest is the support provided by the UN peacekeepers. The peacekeepers are there to support the Congolese army. But, the Congolese army is turning against the civilians they were deployed to protect from the rebels. By providing support to the abusive Congolese army, the UN is compromising its goal of bringing peace to the region.

Anneke Van Woudenberg, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch said, "continued killing and rape by all sides in eastern Congo, shows that the UN Security Council needs a new approach to protect civilians. The Security Council should send a group of experts to kick-start a serious civilian protection plan."

Human Rights Watch has made recommendations: All commanders with known records of human rights abuse should be removed from operational responsibilities. The procedures and conditions should be made public. Human Rights Watch urged the peacekeeping force to immediately cease all support to the current military operation until clear procedures are put in place to prevent violations of international humanitarian law.

For more shocking stories, read the 183-page Human Rights Watch report, "‘You Will Be Punished': Attacks on Civilians in Eastern Congo."

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