Congo's rape shame

By Drum Digital
27 October 2010

IF YOU were living in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo you could be forgiven for thinking God had forsaken you – God and the United Nations.

Because when over 300 people – 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls and three boys – were subjected to mass rape by rebel militias in the Walikale region of North Kivu over four days not too long ago, a UN contingent just 32 kilometres away did nothing about it.

In fact, they didn’t even hear about the atrocities until a few weeks later – and when the news finally emerged it sent ripples of horror across the world.

Young men raping women old enough to be their grandmothers, babies ripped from their mother’s arms, forests set alight as terrified villagers tried to flee... It was an ordeal that will haunt the villagers forever.

“It was like the devil attacked for no reason,” one survivor says. “We’ve had enough. We are like a dying people.”

This area of the DRC has been described as the rape capital of the world and unless something drastic is done the mayhem will continue. Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special envoy responsible for the organisation’s efforts to combat sexual violence, is doing what she can to change the situation.

What’s going on is “unimaginable and unacceptable”, she says. She toured the villages in the stricken parts of the vast central African country and was horrified by what she saw. Many villages were deserted, she says. “Families prefer to sleep in the forest since they don’t feel safe in their own homes. The rapes of elderly women have left communities reeling with shock.”

Rape is used to intimidate locals and win control over a region rich in tin ore, gold and coltan and cassiterite, metals used in the making of cellphones. Armed groups fight over access to these areas and civilians are being caught up in the violence.

Harrowing scenes of human misery were filmed by a British documentary team, which accompanied Margot on her trip into the heart of darkness. In Nyasi village woman after woman came forward to tell her awful tale.

“I was raped by eight men and they kidnapped my five-month-old baby,” villager Sikiliza Buunda said. “I was screaming ‘I’m dying’. The whole forest was on fire. Women, children and men were all screaming throughout the forest. It was a nightmare.”

Sheila Abedi of Kampala village had been raped by a young man and still couldn’t believe what he’d done to her. “Imagine – a boy of 20 and me aged 62, old enough to be his grandmother.” She then pointed to an old woman walking with a stick. “Her too and she’s over 80,” she said bitterly.

“This is our cry for help. You are our fellow women,” she told Margot and the female journalists with her.

In Kampala 35 women were raped and they still sleep in the forest at night, scared the rapists will return. The suffering of women is made worse by the stigma they often face in their families and communities. Their husbands desert them, they are socially cut out and it’s all made much worse if women suffer genital injuries, become pregnant and have children, or contract sexually transmitted diseases.

Read the full article in DRUM of 4 November 2010

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