Monday, October 15, 2007

The Forgotten War

There is much media coverage of the conflict in Darfur that concentrates the minds and concerns of the great and good yet in other parts of this continent other conflicts and violence goes on with little comment .

According to the mortality survey carried out by the International Rescue Committee and published in the British medical journal Lancet between 1997 and 2004, up to four million people died in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to conflict. The IRC also estimates that today, three years later, 38,000 people continue to die there each month.

Democracy Now talks to Christine Schuler Deschryver is a Congolese human rights activist. She lives in Bukavu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and particularly on the the violence against women .

Speaking to the New York Times, John Homes, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, called the sexual violence in the Congo “the worst in the world.”

CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Four million. It was three years ago, in 2004. And now we are waiting for the new report, I think, for beginning October. It will probably be seven million or more, and nobody is talking about this silent war that's going on in Congo, because the official war ended three years ago. We had elections last year.
But there's another form of very violent war with sexual terrorism going on in Congo. We are talking about more than -- in all eastern part of Congo, more than 200,000 women, children and babies being raped every day, and now, right now, I am talking to you, thousands of women are taken and children into forests as slave sex. And today --

AMY GOODMAN: As sex slaves.

DESCHRYVER: As sex slaves, yeah. And we are not -- I’m sorry just to talk like this -- we are not talking about normal rapes anymore. We are talking about sexual terrorism, because they destroyed, and they -- you cannot imagine what's going on in Congo. Rape is a taboo, I think, in most of African countries, so the women who accept to go to the hospital or to be registered, it's because they don't have a choice anymore. They have to go and be repaired, because we are talking about new surgery to repair the women, because they’re completely destroyed. And the ones who are just raped without big destruction, they don't talk about rape, because the African -- the Congolese woman, she suffered so much that she can support being raped without telling it, when she doesn't need medical care...

GOODMAN: Who is doing this?

DESCHRYVER: The ones who are doing this, they are 60% -- because we made studies -- it’s 60% is committed by these people who made genocide in Rwanda, by Rwandans, the Hutu, the one who made the genocide. And, you know, we talk to women, and sometimes these people who made this can tell them, “You know, we died in ’94 in Rwanda, so now we don't care about what we are doing.” So 60% of these rapes are made by these random Hutu who made the genocide in their country.

GOODMAN: There are supposedly peace talks that are going on. Foreign ministers from the Great Lakes countries failed to make progress in two days of talks in Uganda. Latest news, no solution has been agreed on how to deal with the dissident General Laurent Nkunda, whose forces were at war with the Congolese authorities. How does this figure into what you are describing?

DESCHRYVER: You know, I’m just sorry to say that it's one more meeting, and I think these meetings are just going on because of the international pressure. The consequences, I’m sure, it will be nothing. Like General Nkunda, he has an international mandate against him, but everybody, every journalist who go to Goma -- Goma is north part of Bukavu -- can go and interview him. He’s like a king there. He became a pastor. So is that normal, this impunity? ...

DESCHRYVER: People can help me, first of all, being our ambassador, you know, talking about the problem that's going on in Congo, because it's a silent war. It's like silent. They are killing, they are raping babies and women in Congo. It's to talk about -- you know, it's like Darfur. Darfur started four years ago. I don't want to compare, you know, problems we have in this world, but Congo, it started almost eleven years ago, and nobody's talking about this femicide, this holocaust.

GOODMAN: Femicide.

DESCHRYVER: Yeah, it's a femicide, because they are just destroying the female species, if I can talk like this, because can you imagine now -- in Africa, woman is the heart of family. She is doing everything, babies, looking for food, looking for the whole family. And now they're destroying this resource.
Also, can you imagine with this massive rape, AIDS? How will be the population, for example, in ten years? And these children who are teenagers now, who just know violence, seeing murdered the family, raped sister, the mother, what's the next generation?
So, for me, the most important thing now, it’s that the international community to realize that there’s an holocaust, to wake up and try to change something, because even the war we had in Congo, it was not -- it was like an African world war, because so many countries were involved, but it was not a Congolese war, Congolese against Congolese. It was some countries who came and invaded Congo with the help, of course, of the international community to come and steal everything out from Congo. And now we are asking for the international community reparation, not for money, but to be involved to try to find solution, Rwanda to take back these people, these genociders, and also Congo to prioritize security of the population.

Full interview can be read at the link

One of the few international media articles about these atrocities can be read here .

Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore.Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.

"We don't know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear," said Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo's rape epidemic. "They are done to destroy women."

Andre Bourque, a Canadian consultant. "Sexual violence in Congo reaches a level never reached anywhere else. It is even worse than in Rwanda during the genocide."


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

UN's John 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.

Bourque called this phenomenon "reversed values" and said it could develop in heavily traumatized areas that had been steeped in conflict for many years.

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