Horrific events in the Democratic Republic of Congo

There has been a war in the DCR for many years now. Who is at war changes, but a constant feature of the conflict is the sexual violence perpetrated by soldiers on all sides. Civilians are raped en masse – predominantly women, but also men and children – in what has become a routine practice. Rape is used as a weapon of war to intimidate people who are seen as supporters of the opposing side. The UN has forces stationed in DCR, but has so far failed to stop the awful tide of violence. The most recent reports concern the Walikale region. A coalition of armed militia carried out a series of attacks on civilians in July and August. The UN’s human rights chief said the “scale and viciousness” of the mass rapes “defy belief”. Even for DCR, where such attacks are common, the incident stood out because of the “extraordinarily cold-blooded and systematic way” it was carried out. There is a UN base just 20 miles away from where the attacks took place, but they failed to adequately protect the victims, as the UN has admitted. Now the very same region has suffered another mass raping – this time, it is alleged by UN peacekeepers, the perpetrators were government troops. It goes without saying that these horrendous practices have a terrible effect on the people attacked. There are survivors’ accounts on this BBC site. Thanks to W for the story.

13 thoughts on “Horrific events in the Democratic Republic of Congo

  1. Reading the survivors’ tales on the BBC site, what strikes me is that it’s the husbands of those women who reject their raped wives, because they are now dirty or whatever. I just completely fail to understand those men. I think they are actually as bad as the rapists, since they have the same conception of those women: they are objects, property, to be used and discarded at will. Completely incomprehensible and heartwrenching.

  2. I know what you’re saying. But I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s not just that women are conceived as property, it’s also that women are thought of as embodying the honour of the family, the village, and/or a larger group. So by attacking the women, the soldiers are able to dishonour the group, and to challenge the group identity. It’s also a way of emasculating the men, who are unable to protect the women. It’s reported that the men feel so ashamed of what has happened to their women, and have no way to really conceptualize this feeling, and express it, that its only manifestation is rejection of the woman to whom it has happened. There is an Amnesty report on the use of rape as a weapon of war here.

    The same thing also happened after the mass rapes in Berlin, perpetrated by the Soviet ‘liberators’ at the end of the Second World War. Women in Berlin were repeatedly gang-raped over a long period of time, including Jewish women who were liberated from concentration camps or came out of hiding. They drew a certain amount of strength from being able to talk to other women about their shared experiences. But when the men returned, they had to keep quiet or be rejected. For some, their husbands and partners, knowing what had happened, left them. Similarly, the reason is the way that notions of women, sex and sexuality is tied up with ideas about masculinity, pride, and so on. There’s info about those horrific events here.

  3. I think you’re absolutely right about it being more complicated, which makes thinking of how this can be stopped even more of a challenge I suppose.
    Just read this article in the daily beast which also says something to that extent. The stories of what happened to the women is tremendously disturbing, it has to stop, but one really despairs.

  4. Another article documenting problems with providing medical support and assistance to those who have been raped.

    Website from Harvard University, outlining the problem of rape in the Congo, and the work of Harvard researchers trying to understand the phenomenon so that it can be stopped.

  5. I like that the author of the linked article mentioned the title, Mummy. I was surprised that she didn’t elaborate further. To the Congolese, motherhood is the highest honour. To acknowledge another woman or near-woman as Mummy is a show of respect.

  6. I read that the largest UN peacekeeping contingent in the world is in the Congo. What are they doing, I want to know!? Perhaps they have rubbish rules of engagement – or perhaps insufficient helicopters to deploy quickly over large distances. They should be deploying quickly and going in all guns blazing to stop this sort of thing. (I realise that in the long run a solution needs political and cultural solutions, but in the short term…)

  7. I suspect you’re right, Tina. Peacekeeping as a practice has a terrible track record. Standing around with 2 peashooters for every 5 soldiers, with orders to do nothing puts our soldiers at risk for no good reason. They should be allowed to go to war and do a proper job of it, or they should be sent home.

  8. Really? That is awful, Monkey. Will the corrupt peacekeepers go on trial at least? It’s one thing to say they can’t catch ‘those’ war criminals because of culture, terrain, fear, upbringing, child soldiery, or what have you. But OUR peacekeepers have no excuse. Let the Hague sort them out like any other war criminal.

  9. Wish that were happening, Xena, but think that’s an ongoing problem. There’s an old article in the Guardian about the problem. Amnesty has some more recent stuff somewhere, but I don’t have the references to hand.

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