Rape in Congo

There’s an important and horrifying story in the NY Times on systematic rape by militias in the Congo, which seems to be on an even greater scale than such rape elsewhere.

No one — doctors, aid workers, Congolese and Western researchers — can explain exactly why this is happening.“That is the question,” said André Bourque, a Canadian consultant who works with aid groups in eastern Congo. “Sexual violence in Congo reaches a level never reached anywhere else. It is even worse than in Rwanda during the genocide.”    

Some suggest that these rapes have led to wider tolerance for violence against women in Congolese society.

While rape has always been a weapon of war, researchers say they fear that Congo’s problem has metastasized into a wider social phenomenon.“It’s gone beyond the conflict,” said Alexandra Bilak, who has studied various armed groups around Bukavu, on the shores of Lake Kivu. She said that the number of women abused and even killed by their husbands seemed to be going up and that brutality toward women had become “almost normal.”  

But why should Congo have such a horrific epidemic of brutal rape by soldiers?

Impunity may be a contributing factor, Mr. Bourque added, saying that very few of the culprits are punished.Many Congolese aid workers denied that the problem was cultural and insisted that the widespread rapes were not the product of something ingrained in the way men treated women in Congolese society. “If that were the case, this would have showed up long ago,” said Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu.Instead, she said, the epidemic of rapes seems to have started in the mid-1990s. That coincides with the waves of Hutu militiamen who escaped into Congo’s forests after exterminating 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during Rwanda’s genocide 13 years ago.Mr. Holmes said that while government troops might have raped thousands of women, the most vicious attacks had been carried out by Hutu militias.“These are people who were involved with the genocide and have been psychologically destroyed by it,” he said.    

Thanks, Mr Jender, for the depressing but important link.

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