In Congo, rape is a weapon of war

The Standard – Nairobi

By Eric Mgendi And Solange Nyamulisa

With the largest peacekeeping force in the world, the crisis in the Democratic Republic (DR) of Congo is one of the most complex.

New estimates by International Rescue Committee show that more than five million people have died between 1998 and 2002. It all began 12 years ago after the ouster of Laurent Kabila. Long-standing and deep-seated, internal causes, often based on ethnicity and interference by external powers have consistently undermined the integrity and sovereignty of DR Congo.

In Congo, rape is an instrument of war. The biggest consequence of this is sexual violence, perpetrated by both armed and civilian men.

Uncertainty and rejection characterise life for the thousands of people living in urban and rural areas of the conflict-prone eastern province of Congo.

Amani Nyabintu, 16, was lucky to have fled unscathed from Sake, 30km west of Goma, early this year, when fresh fighting erupted.

But unfortunately for Nyabintu, even the camp in Goma was not safe.

“I was raped by the soldiers in Bulengo Camp when I went to collect food,” she says.

She had been contemplating suicide minutes before we met her.

“There is no reason for me to live,” she says. “I feel I am not wanted in this world any more.”

Uprooted from a secondary school in Sake because of the raging conflict, Nyabintu had high prospects. emotional support

Her parents separated because her father could not withstand the shame. She has now taken a job as a house girl to fend for herself, but she can go for months without pay.

Nyabintu is among dozens of women receiving emotional support from a local organisation, Association Nationale des Mamans DesheritÈes (Anamad). They are also taken through skills training to help them earn a living.

In many cultures in DR Congo, rape is associated with stigma and exclusion. As a result, many rape victims do not report the incidents. They fear to be condemned by the family and society, or worse still, reprisals from the violators.

“This makes the crime to thrive,” Rachel Kembe, the co-ordinator of Anamad, says.

“Since we began to share with women the deadly consequences rape can lead to, many women are now opening up, with few others even reporting the cases to the justice system,” she says.fear of attack

Another survivor, Ms Claudine Lurhuma, endured trauma and physical disability in the hands of militia when fighting erupted in Kizege village of Bukavu, four years ago.

Neighbours rescued her in the morning as they were coming back from the bushes where people usually spent their nights for fear of being attacked.

Her parents were killed as she watched when they attempted to protect her against rape.

“That night I did not go to the bush because my father had been operated on and could not be left alone,” Lurhuma says.

Apart from injuries she suffered from the sexual assault, two bullets were removed from her leg. She now walks with crutches.

In the eastern province of Congo, organisations such as Anamad with support from international donors help people like Lurhum to get basic needs.

Started nine years ago to help Rwandese refuges fleeing the genocide, Anamad provides emotional support, medical reference and training to improve the income of rape survivors.

Claudine now gets about Sh6,900 every month from making clothes, a skill she learnt through training by Anamad with support from ActionAid. She also teaches a class of 38 other single women the skill. They then mobilise savings as a group to help improve their business.

Fuelled by institutionalised theft of national resources and vested interests in Congo’s vast riches, the search to end fighting in Congo has become elusive, as women and children suffer. Men have also fallen victims.

“Nearly 70 per cent of all rape survivors in the camps had their husbands and sons murdered,” says Bosco Ntachompenze, president of Mugunga Camp in Goma, which hosts more than 9,000 people. rape survivors

“Men whose lives are spared are recruited as militia and put on the front line,” he says.

There are five camps for internally displaced people in Goma town alone and majority of women and girls are rape survivors.

Rape in Congo has been described as an instrument of war. Although the international community has succeeded in disarming militia in some parts, others feel the peace process has so far benefited warlords at the expense of true victims of the conflict.

Those opposed are afraid that integrating Laurent Nkunda’s troops into the army may result in revenge killings and loss of illegally acquired wealth.

Action on behalf of justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel.
Justice in the World – 1971 Synod of Bishops

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