Systematic Rape in Congo Reportedly Continues Despite Peace Agreements

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.

Amnesty International: Violence Against Women Is Factor in Spread of AIDS Epidemic

Amnesty International released a report in November, Women, HIV/AIDS and human rights, arguing that a failure of governments to tackle violence against women in AIDS-ravated regions of the world is contributing to the spread of that disease.

According to the report,

The increasing spread of HIV/AIDS among women and sexual violence are interlinked. If governments are serious in their fight against the disease they also have to deal with another worldwide ‘pandemic’: violence against women.

The report cites three specific traditional practices which Amnesty International says contribute to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They are early marriage, in which very young girls are entered — often against their will — into marriage; wife inheritance, in which a wife is passed along to her husband’s brother in the event of the husband’s death; and female genital mutilation.

The report also notes that rape and violence against women are a major outcome of persistent wars in some parts of the world, especially Africa which has been hit hardest by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


Amnesty: Violence against women is spreading AIDS. Reuters, November 24, 2004.

Women, HIV/AIDS and human rights. Amnesty International, November 24, 2004.

Amnesty International: Violence Against Women “Most Pervasive Human Rights Challenge”

In November, Amnesty International marked International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women by arguing that violence against women is the “most pervasive human rights challenge” facing the world today. Unfortunately, Amnesty International appears to be relying on inflated activist figures for some of its claims.

Here’s a couple paragraphs from the BBC, for example, on Amnesty International’s take on women and human rights,

‘Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights challenge of our times,” said Amnesty International.

According to the organization, 120 million women around the world are subjected to brutal female circumcision every year and in the United States alone 700,000 women are raped annually.

Huh? According to the National Crime Victimization Survey — which relies on interviews to estimate crime rates, including those that are never reported to police — in 2000 there were roughly 100,000 rapes in the United States. Even if you add in the crimes labeled as sexual assaults by the NCVS, you still end up with a number that’s more than 2/3rds lower than the Amnesty International figure.

If Amnesty International is willing to rely on such specious figures for its estimates of violent crime against women in the United States, how can its estimates for crime in other parts of the world be trusted?


Attacks on women ‘biggest issue’. The BBC, November 26, 2003.

Documentary, Human Rights Reports Chronicle Zimbabwe’s Use of Rape Against Dissidents

The United Nations Regional Information Networks recently carried a report about the premier of “In A Dark Time,” a documentary about groups affiliated with Zimbabwe’s corrupt government using rape as a weapon against dissidents in that country.

For example, the film includes a 16-year-old girl describing how a pro-government militia seize her and her siblings and then raped her as a punishment for her mother’s support of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and Physicians for Human Rights have all documented the ongoing systematic use of rape in Zimbabwe over the past several years. A 2002 Amnesty International report warned of “mounting reports of rape and sexual torture by the [pro-government] militia . . .”

UNRIN reports that studies of the use of torture and other illegal tactics by the government of Zimbabwe and its supporters have found that 40 percent of those subjected to such attacks have been women, who are frequently stripped naked and beaten. Beginning in the summer of 2001, pro-government supporters began using rape and other means of sexual torture with increasing frequency against female supporters of the opposition.

According to UNRIN, the pro-government militias are also illegally kidnapping women and forcing them into concubinage. The young women are forced to perform various domestic duties for the soldiers as well as have sex with them.

All of this, of course, is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention and other international treaties. Ironically, the documentary about these abuses was premiered in South Africa. South AFrica’s Thabo Mbeki has been a leading proponent of a policy of constructive engagement toward Zimbabwe, and has called, for example, for the readmission of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth after its membership was suspended due to rising levels of political violence (Mbeki has also restored to calling critics of his appeasement policy “white supremacists”).


Focus on rape as a political weapon. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, April 8, 2003.

Amnesty International Report on Worldwide Abuse and Torture of Women

Amnesty International recently released a report on the extent of torture and abuse directed against women worldwide.

The report, Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds, notes that “under international law, the state has clear responsibility for human rights abuses committed by non-state actors — people and organizations acting outside the state and its organs,” but that many nation states turn their backs on such abuses for cultural reasons.

Amnesty International also documents the torture and abuse that many women suffer within prison systems around the world, including the United States. Ironically one of Amnesty International’s complaints about abuse of women in U.S. prisons is a direct result of feminist achievements,

Allegations of sexual abuse of women prisoners in the USA nearly always involve male staff who, contrary to international standards, are allowed unsupervised access to female jail and prison inmates in many jurisdictions.

The report makes for fascinating, if depressing reading, and can be downloaded in PDF format from the Amnesty International web site at the link below.


Broken bodies, shattered minds: Torture and ill-treatment of women. Amnesty International, Press Release, April 1, 2001.

Stop Honor Killings

The other day I was reading a book by an academic feminist who argued, among other things, that the idea that there is a universal code of morality (i.e. there are just things that are plain wrong) is a white imperialist idea. Maybe, but I still have to say that honor killings are wrong and the relativists be damned.

What’s an honor killing? An honor killing is where a man kills a female relative if he suspects she’s committed a sexual transgression, and in some cultures such violence is not only ignored but actually sanctioned by the legal code.

In Jordan, for example, two women were recently murdered in honor killings. In one case a father killed his adult daughter after she was released from jail after serving time for a sexual relationship her step brother. In the second case, a woman accused of having extramarital sex was murdered by her brothers. Of course both men and women kill each other in the United States and other parts of the world over sexual infidelity, but here’s the kicker — in Jordan the penal code specifically exempts a man from punishment if he kills a female relative to atone for her sexual transgressions.

According to the BBC (Jordanian women killed ‘for honour’), in Jordan about 25 women a year are murdered this way, and their murderers are protected by law from prosecution. That’s a rather large figure in a country of less than 5 million people.

A small group of reformers tried to get the Jordanian parliament to overturn the law protecting honor killings but failed. A protest against the law drew only a few thousand people.

And Jordan isn’t alone in having a problem with honor killings. A report released by Amnesty International last September claimed that hundreds of honor killings take place in Pakistan every year. Although honor killing is murder under Pakistan’s penal code, juries tend to acquit men who kill their female relatives for reasons of honor and judges tend to give light sentences for those men who say they killed to preserve their family’s honor.

Maybe it’s just the Western imperialist in me, but honor killing is downright barbaric and should be outlawed everywhere in the world.