May 26, 2006
“I Wish They’d Killed Me” – Rape Atrocities in Congo
Three years ago Henriette Nyota said she was gang raped as her husband and four children were forced to watch. The men in uniform then disemboweled her husband and continued raping her and her two oldest daughters, 10 and 8. The assault went on for three days. “I wish they’d killed me right there with my husband,” she said, “What use am I now? Why did those animals leave me to suffer like this?”
A couple of days ago I posted an overview of an article found in this month’s Forced Migration Review on the lack of reproductive health needs in Darfur and how rape is being used as a tool of war. The quoted text is from an article in CNN today by Jeff Koinange on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (photo is from MSF). There aren’t enough medical professional or resources to treat women who have been sexually violated.
I want to excerpt part of the article which is an interview with Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere, the only physician in a hospital in eastern Congo where ten women who have been sexually-assaulted a day are treated and with financial resources earmarked for these women expected to run out by the end of June.
“Some of them have knives and other sharp objects inserted in them after they’ve been raped, while others have pistols shoved into their vaginas and the triggers pulled back,” said Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere. “It’s a kind of barbarity that only savages are capable of.” He added that “these perpetrators cannot be human beings.”
I didn’t include this passage to shock or upset, but to engage readers and force us to become more pro-active. We have to work to change policies overseas and look at normative approaches to dealing with sexual violence against women in an armed conflict.
The alleged perpetrators in this case are men in the Congolese army. These troops are a compilation of various militia groups that had been fighting each other for years until a truce was reached two years ago. A recent report by the United Nations found that Congo’s own soldiers were responsible for the nearly seven dozen complaints of crimes and human rights violations over the past two months.
With an election set to take place in DRC on July 30, this violence against women will go virtually unreported, nobody is going to make any accusations at the government or former militias when there is a fragile peace process in place. That’s why it’s important to support the research and work of human rights and women’s rights that are reporting these abuses, both at the international and local level.
Women by far make up the greatest proportion of civilians killed in war and targeted for violence. Women suffer severe physical, economic, and psychological hardships during periods of armed conflict. Perpetrators of sexual violence against women are rarely held accountable for their acts. Many victims of sexual violence have little recourse, as state agencies often operate within a system of gender bias and discriminatory practices.
There are legal mechanisms for women’s protection in wartime are in place, such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the recommendations under UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW). But as activists and donors have to hold governments accountable for implementing such provisions. We also have to see to it that funding women’s health clinics in countries involved in armed conflict remains a priority.
I know, easier said that done, especially with donor fatigue in Africa. But if the information is out there, we can at least develop an interest in the work being done by women’s groups and support them.