Displaced people in Kibati camp, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 2008. Copyright: UNHCR/P. Taggart
Today, Oxfam International and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative released a report on the rampant use of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The news is sobering: tens of thousands of women have been systematically raped by combatant forces between 2004 and 2008.
Rape is an extremely effective wartime weapon. It is strategically used to shame, demoralize and humiliate the enemy. By systematically raping women and girls, armed groups assert power and domination over not only the women, but their men as well (page 7)
Perhaps most shocking of all their findings is that gang rape is widespread and prevalent, especially in rapes committed by armed combatants. And while many rapes are still being committed by armed combatants, the report also found that the incidence of rape by civilians had greatly increased since 2004, increasing by 1733%, while incidence of rape by armed combatants are actually decreased. The authors of the report grimly call this trend a “civilian adoption of rape.”
Rape survivors awaiting surgery, Panzi hospital, Bukavu, South-Kivu province. Copyright Amnesty International
Given the widespread violence perpetrated by armed combatants in the DRC, a withdrawal of United Nations peacekeeping mission (MONUC) troops is likely to lead to increased violence and even less protection for women and girls. The debate to extend MONUC, whose mandate is up for renewal at the end of May, has already begun in the United Nations Security Council.
Amnesty strongly opposes any withdrawal or drawdown in MONUC troops. Instead of requiring the peacekeepers to leave, the government should work with the UN in resolving the many protection challenges that remain. Especially with regards to sexual violence, government forces do not have the capacity to assume the security functions currently fulfilled by MONUC, and the government has not shown the political will to make its forces capable. A withdrawal of MONUC troops will severely hurt the DRC’s chances for peace, and further limit the potential for justice and protection of victims of sexual violence.
Take action now to help protect Justine Masika Bihamba, a women’s rights defender in the DRC who has been repeatedly threatened and attacked because of her work on behalf of survivors of sexual violence.
Kristin Ghazarians contributed to this blog post