Although there is a peace agreement in place and elections scheduled later this year to end the Democratic Republic of Congo’s seven year civil war, human rights activists who visit the DRC say that the systematic use of rape continues to be used by various forces involved.
At its heart, the DRC civil war has its root in an ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis that led to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in less than 4 months.
In 1997, fearing Hutus were preparing to launch an attack from the DRC, the Tutsi-led government of Rwanda supported Laurent Kabila’s coup against DRC dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. When Kabila won and attempted to expel Rwandan military forces from the Congo, a civil war erupted that at one point included 9 other African nations.
Systematic rape has been a frequent tactic in the civil war. A 2004 Amnesty International report estimated that as many as 40,000 women had been raped by military and paramilitary forces from 1998-2004. The AI report said that sexual assault had been committed by forces on all sides of the conflict.
Human rights activists such as Eric Schiller returning from the DRC claim that although there is a peace in place, the rapes and violence have not abated. Schiller told the Canadian Press,
It [systematic rape] is very extensive, it is ongoing, it seems to have become a modus operandi.
This is hardly surprising giving AI’s report in late 2004 that the transitional government in place in the DRC was indifferent at best to the plight of the victims of sexual violence. According to AI’s report,
Insufficient resources and the fact that the country is still balanced between war and peace are often used as excuses by the government to justify its inaction on these issues. Questioned by Amnesty International on the government?s weak commitment on care for survivors of sexual violence, the deputy health minister claimed that this was due to the lack of resources and the complex configuration of the government. He clearly indicated that his ministry will limit its work to caring for victims if and when it is able to, and that the government “cannot establish a global policy on rape because rape is an isolated phenomenon and is not an epidemic or disease like cholera”(58).
If Schiller is correct, little appears to have changed in the year and a half since the release of the Amnesty International report.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Mass rape – time for remedies. Amnesty International, 2004.
Congo rape victims seek solace. Jackie Martens, BBC, January 24, 2004.
Report shows DR Congo rape horror. BBC, October 26, 2004.
Systematic rape in eastern Congo continues despite pleas for intervention. Dennis Bueckert, Canadian Press, March 5, 2006.