NAITORE: DR Congo must address rape by state officers
Rape by the military and other perpetrators, both during conflict and in peacetime, continues to be one of the most serious human rights abuses in the world. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, years of armed conflict have resulted in countless rapes and sexual assaults, including by peacekeeping troops that were brought in to protect civilians.
The United Nations found that in one nine month period in 2014, there were 11,769 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Orientale, Katanga and Maniema; 39 per cent of these cases were considered to be directly related to the dynamics of conflict, perpetrated by armed individuals. As of last year, local health centers in South Kivu claim that an estimated 40 women continue to experience sexual violence every day in that region.
Rape and sexual assault disproportionately affects women and girls and tragically stigmatizes victims and children born from the rapes. Yet despite the end of officially recognized conflict in the DRC,women and girls living in “unregulated” regions, particularly mining regions, face incredible hardships from those the government is unable or unwilling to control. Women and girls in these areas are especially vulnerable due to the rich natural resources that are at the heart of the conflict. These regions yield valuable resources like coltan– a key component in today’s technology devices – 64% of which is sourced in the DRC.
Rape as a weapon of war is only one aspect of a brutal crime that affects women and girls daily. Not only are the consequences for the victim immediate, but whole communities are terrorized and often uprooted. Social norms mean that survivors are often ostracized completely from their community support systems. Transitional justice systems set up by the international community are not sufficient to address this wide scale problem in the DRC. Domestic justice systems are marred by corruption too and are not accessible to those who need it the most. Equality Now, in partnership with advocates in the DRC and VICE media, calls for a coordinated and coherent response to survivors at all levels. The international community, government of the DRC, and the private sector must act to end this tragedy. We welcome recent landmark decisions holding some military actors accountable, but the DRC government must institute urgent measures to ensure there is an end to impunity for all perpetrators – not only those in the armed forces. Rape survivors must also be able to access justice. Arrests, prosecutions and restitution continue to be elusive.
Tragically, not much has changed in the nearly six years that a high-level panel convened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights heard directly from victims of sexual violence in the DRC. As in other parts of the world, rape also takes place in the context of sex trafficking and forced marriage. Advocates underscore that the government must do more to build a justice system that works for women and girls affected by sexual violence, whether during conflict or in peacetime.
The private sector also has a role to play. The UN Global Compact, through the Women’s Empowerment Principles, shows a clear link between corporate social responsibility and its ability to ensure gender equality. Corporations must require that their supply chains are free from sexual violence and exploitation, especially given the clear links to gender based violence. This is especially true for all companies doing business in the mining regions of the DRC.
Naitore Nyamu Mathenge is Equality’s Now Program Officer, Sexual Violence/Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF).