A ten-year-old girl who was raped twice in ten days surrounded by other raped victims and a counselor (Photo Credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images).
By Rebecca Landy, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group with the Democratic Republic of Congo Country Specialists
For almost two decades, armed conflict has ravaged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During this time, civilians have faced persistent human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, rape, and sexual violence.
An October 2013 report by the Ministry of Gender stressed the high rates of sexual violence in areas of armed conflict – citing approximately 7,000 cases of sexual violence in North Kivu province in 2011 alone. As sexual violence is usually largely under-reported, the actual number is likely even higher.
Save the Children’s “State of the World’s Mothers” report has named the Democratic Republic of Congo as the world’s worst place to be a mother (Photo Credit: Leon Sadiki/City Press/Gallo Images/Getty Images).
Severe violations of women’s human rights in Congo are, unfortunately, a perennial subject of attention for me and numerous other rights activists. Typically those violations are associated with the long and bloody conflict that has spanned the country and concentrated in its most recent stages in the East.
Indeed, DRC has been plagued by almost two decades of conflict resulting in the suffering and death of millions of men, women and children. Most chillingly, the Congo conflict has become synonymous with rape and other forms of sexual violence, which are committed with impunity by security forces, including the armed forces of the DRC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, FARDC), and other armed groups. For this reason, it was ranked the worst place to be a woman by the United Nations just last year.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe speaks next to first lady Grace Mugabe. (Photo credit: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)
In the wake of contested presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008, Zimbabwe experienced high levels of political violence. Amnesty International documented deaths, disappearances, torture, and arrests of civilians, political opposition members and civil society. Citizens were rounded up and taken to “re-education camps,” which were mostly school buildings in rural areas, where they were forced to pledge allegiance and sing songs in support of President Robert Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF. Women were also brutally raped, often by multiple perpetrators.
Zimbabwe has not signed the Rome Statute, so they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court unless referred by the UN Security Council. However, South Africa has signed the Rome Statute and in doing so, made a commitment to pursuing international justice. A South African court previously held that the country has a requirement under this commitment to investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of torture in Zimbabwe who cross the border into South Africa-but prosecutors declined to do so and the government appealed that decision.
I was in Delhi on December 17 when tens of thousands marched in solidarity to support a young victim of rape.
On the evening of December 16, this young woman and her friend boarded a bus to return home after watching a movie. Her friend was attacked, while she was assaulted and raped by five men on the bus. Both were then left to die on the side of a busy street. Her injuries were so severe, that she succumbed to them a few weeks later.
As the clock counted down the few remaining minutes of the 112th Congress, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) failed to reach the finish line in a politically and ideologically divided Congress. Since 1994, VAWA has ensured that millions of women who are experiencing domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking receive the protection and support that they need through legal and social services. After 18 years of bipartisan support, Congress’s failure to reauthorize VAWA is an outrageous and indefensible roadblock to the goal of ending violence against women and fulfilling the right of all women to live lives free of intimidation and violence.
Inexcusably, House Republican leaders’ opposition to full inclusion of all at-risk communities eventually doomed the legislation. Congress’s inability to act means that millions of women and men will be left without access to some of the critical resources and protections contained in VAWA reauthorization.
Indian students of various organisations hold placards as they shout slogans during a demonstration in Hyderabad on January 3, 2013. (Photo credit: NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Every 21 minutes, a woman is raped in India. Most rapes go unreported and even those rapes that are reported often goes unpunished. However, one horrific rape in particular has galvanized activists and has the potential to change India’s attitude towards rape.
By now, many have heard of the horrific rape and murder of a young college student in the heart of India’s capital– New Delhi. She was attacked in a speeding private minibus with iron rods which punctured her intestines. She and her friend were then tossed from the minibus. And despite being dumped on a crowded street, it took 40 minutes for a passerby to contact the police. The lack of intervention by passers-by was likely due to the poor police treatment of Good Samaritans. The victim later died after being airlifted to Singapore for further treatment. The alleged attackers have been charged with murder.
Three years ago when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took the unprecedented step of travelling to the Eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to meet with rape survivors of the country’s brutal conflict, I was elated and hopeful. Elated because Secretary Clinton was doing something that had never been done before—sending the message that sexual violence is just as high on America’s foreign policy agenda as trade or traditional capital-to-capital diplomacy, and that the dignity and needs of survivors are a particular priority. Hopeful because I thought it meant perhaps three years later we would see some real change for women in that unending war.
I was wrong.
Tens of thousands of civilians have this very week been displaced following the fall of Goma, a city in Congo’s war-torn east, to the armed group M23, worsening an already dire human rights situation. Since only April of this year, fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group has displaced 226,000 people in North Kivu province, and 60,000 refugees have fled to Uganda and Rwanda. As with the many other chapters in what’s become known as Africa’s world war, sexual violence has been a trademark of the recent fighting. Amnesty International has documented numerous crimes under international law and other human rights violations committed in the course of fighting between M23 and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army in recent months.
Fall is my favorite time of year: the air is cooler, the leaves are pretty, Amnesty International student groups are back together again, and people start signing up for the Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon.
In this—the world’s largest human rights event—we use letters, cards and more to demand the human rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. We show solidarity with those suffering abuses and work to improve people’s lives.
Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private
Last night, I watched a harrowing new documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” by Channel 4, a British media company, about the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.
The 49-minute film depicts the massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels. The film is available online at Channel 4′s website until June 21.
Please note: some of the scenes in the film are very disturbing. It is NOT for younger viewers.
The film includes an extended version of the “execution video” released in 2009, in which naked prisoners are shown being shot in the head. There are scenes of dead female Tamil Tigers who appear to have been raped and murdered.
In preparation for the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, recently released a report on her 2011 mission—conducted at the invitation of the U.S. Government—to the United States. This was the first visit of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women since 1998, and her findings suggest both progress and a call to action.
The report affirms that women in the United States experience violence. No surprise there, but it is a clear indication that violence against women (VAW) knows no national, political, ethnic, religious, or socio-economic boundaries; it happens here, it happens everywhere.