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Inside Story

Rape in DR Congo: A 'weapon of war'

Why does sexual violence go largely unpunished in the country and should the UN hold the perpetrators accountable?
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2013 10:07

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been dubbed the rape capital of the world.

"[Sexual violence] It's become a weapon of war in eastern Congo, used by soldiers and rebels, sometimes ... the Congolese army soldiers ... are going out on a looting and raping rampage and it's almost random those that they target. In other cases, we've seen rebels or soldiers use rape specifically to target members of a particular ethnic group ... "

- Ida Sawyer, Human Rights Watch

The United Nations says more than 200,000 people have been raped in the country since 1998. And now the UN has issued an ultimatum to two army battallions accused of mass rape.

Rape is weapon of war that goes largely unpunished in the eastern DRC. And the UN mission says it will stop working with the army unless legal action is take against those responsible.
 
Many abuses by M23 rebels and Congolese troops are able to take place with impunity.

M23 rebels took control of the eastern city of Goma in late November last year. Their leaders declared themselves a liberation force and talked about the discipline of their troops.

But research by Human rights Watch (HRW) found that during their short occupation of Goma, the M23 looted, killed and forcibly recruited army soldiers. They also raped at least 36 women.

"By all accounts we know that this kind of actions, this kind of rape epidemic, this kind of sexual violence is destroying a whole society. And you ... you don't see the kind of massive commitment this situation deserves. And there are not only women who are destroyed ... but also the children, the child soldiers involved who become rapists, they are deeply damaged and the impact is on the whole society."

- Marie-Roger Biloa, editor of Africa International

As M23 took over Goma, the Congolese army retreated to the town of Minova.

Human Rights watch says that "Over the next 10 days, they went on a raping and looting rampage in Minova and neighbouring communities."

The rights group documented soldiers threatening to kill women if they refused to have sex with them.Some victims were gang raped in front of their husbands and children.

They say that the United Nations and other groups involved in the peace agreement, should have a mandate to arrest those accused of crimes against humanity. And bring them to justice.

So, how serious a problem is rape in this war-torn country?

Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Ida Sawyer, DR Congo researcher and advocate for Human Rights Watch; Marie-Roger Biloa, editor of Africa International, a pan-African news magazine; and Marc-Andre Lagrange, Central Africa senior analyst for the International Crisis Group.

"The woman is sacrificed to show her husband that he no longer has power and to dishonour her husband. They use sexual violence to weaken the enemy."

Justine Masika Bihamba, Synergy for victims of social violence

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