Fighting has started again in the Eastern region of DR Congo, as the M23 rebels battle against the poorly paid and ill equipped Congolese army as the UN peacekeeping forces watch helplessly, however, the constant use of rape as a weapon of war by the rebels and now government forces is mortifying, eccentric and a call for concern.
The figures of rape cases continue to augment and are alarming, as persistent sexual violence has made Eastern Congo the most horrible in the world for this crime – “Rape capital of the world” or the worse place to be a woman.
The UN, that has the largest UN Peacekeeping forces in the world based in DR Congo, estimates that 200,000 women and girls have been victims of rape or other sexual violence since 1995.
Although various reports from international humanitarian groups working in the country have condemned this cruel act against women and young girls, the government of President Joseph Kabila has totally failed to act or take action to stop this rape war.
The government officials would argue that DR Congo has legal system to handle sexual violence, but reports from the field show that these laws are often not enforced as individuals or groups accused, often used the loopholes of the judicial system marred by corruption to commit more sexual atrocities.
It is scandalous that at the time when efforts are multiplied to end this endemic conflict, women and young girls are instead the target.
According to a 2010 research conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association in the Eastern region of DR Congo, 39.7 % of women are said to have been exposed to sexual violence, especially rape.
In another study carried out in the same year two in five women living in the region are said to have been victims of sexual violence.
The Congolese war started with the rebellion to oust Mobutu, just after the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, and has claimed about 6 millions lives and displaced thousands as sexual violence or “sexual terrorism” is now predominant across the region and even the entire country.
Under Mobutu, one of the richest dictators Africa ever had, sexual abuse was used as a method of torture and has since then become a common practise, especially with the unrest and instability after him.
Too much suffering for victims
It is humiliating that during a conflict, the national army is obliged to protect the vulnerable population – children, women, the old and disabled – from the hands of ruthless rebels, but in DR Congo it is the Congolese army that is instead victimising the people.
Caught in the crossfire between a merciless rebel groups and a disloyal national army, where are these children, women and the old expected to go to or ask for help?
Even when refugee camps or makeshift residential areas come under attacks, the bushes or dense forests are even the worse places where gang rape are said to take place.
Another agonizing facet of the war rape in DR Congo is that some of the perpetrators do testify to have done it or instructed to do it. For whatever reason, these soldiers or rebels do not for a moment envisage that as they are on the battlefield fighting someone could actually be raping their own mothers, sisters, daughters or even relatives. How would they feel or react if that has to happen to any of them?
It is dehumanising for anyone to watch a video of innocent, vulnerable women and young girls narrate the ordeal they went through being sexual abused by soldier or group of rebels. It is really heartbreaking to hear a teenage girl in tears explains how she was raped ten times a day under precarious conditions.
How would any of these victims ever value the life they are living when it has been constant fleeing from one rebel group to another and now, it is the national army, which is supposed to offer them refuge that is chasing them and raping them?
Rape does not only hurt, harm a woman’s feeling but also make her feels more of an abused object of no dignity. If she is lucky to escape the sexual abuse, she might not be fortunate to avoid being infected with STDs or even HIV/AIDS.
According to a UN report, in times of conflict, combatants use mass rape as a weapon to scare and harm civilians, who in turn can contract HIV or other diseases and unknowingly spread infections fast.
UN officially declared rape a weapon of war in 2008 since according to War Child, a UK charity, rape is an incredibly cheap and powerful weapon which usually leaves its victims both physically and psychologically traumatised, and even the entire community.