Mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: a shame for humanity

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, FIDH calls for international action against sexual violence in the DRC.

Hundreds of thousands of victims of the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been raped, tortured, sexually enslaved, infected with HIV, and have seen their bodies destroyed for the past decade. One could have hoped that the « transition to democracy » would bring along a decrease in the number of such crimes. However, they continue to be committed at the same scale as before. From six-month old babies to 70-year old women, there is no escape from terror.

In the east of the Congo, sexual violence has increased due to the resumption of the conflict in the North-Kivu region. There as well as in the South-Kivu, Ituri, and Katanga regions, women, men, and children have been targets of rapes, used as a weapon for the destruction of peoples. These crimes are noticeable because of their scale and cruelty. Perpetrators – militia members, insurgents, rebels, but also members of the army – enjoy almost complete impunity.

It is precisely because of this culture of impunity that sexual violence has been trivialised and continues to spread in the rest of the country, including the capital Kinshasa. Out of the many victims who have dared bring charges for these crimes, only a small number succeed in obtaining a conviction.

During an information mission to Kinshasa in November 2007, FIDH collected the testimony of a 10-year old girl that had been approached on her way to school, raped several times, and held in illegal confinement for days. There was a formal complaint to the police in Kinshasa but the suspect was only briefly detained and then released, while the little girl was kept in detention. A second complaint before the office of the prosecutor met the same fate: according to several sources, the criminal had bought his freedom. As a result, the victim must not only live with the physical and psychological harm inflicted upon her, but also with her own family’s rejection. She has been living in a care centre for the past year.

The Congolese government had taken one step forward by adopting – over a year ago – two laws on the prosecution of sexual violence, but these laws are yet to be applied. It is true that 6 soldiers were convicted for rape as a crime against humanity in the trial of Songo Mboyo. [1] However, they managed to escape from prison. « What is a small number of released convicts next to the thousands of criminals that are still free and enjoy impunity? », wonders FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen. « We urge that systematic strategies for prosecution be put in place to address sexual violence. We demand that this prosecution target all criminals, regardless of their identity, their rank or their location. »

Once again FIDH calls upon the Congolese government to take the fight against sexual violence seriously, by adopting the legislation on DRC cooperation with the International Criminal Court, as well as the Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, FIDH and its member organisations in the DRC – ASADHO, Ligue des Électeurs and Groupe Lotus – make a call upon international actors for awareness on the serious drama unfolding in the DRC. We urge them to mobilise their resources for the protection of the population and the prevention of further commission of these crimes.

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