As the violence in Darfur, Sudan rages on in a decade’s old war, reports continue to surface that Congolese women living in the region are being subjected to gang rape and genocide, or what is being identified as “sexual terrorism.”
The violence is the outcome of the long and ongoing wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Between 1997 and 2004, up to four million people died in the conflict according to the latest mortality survey carried out by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and published in the British medical journal Lancet. The IRC also estimates that 38,000 people continue to die in the region each month.
Women and girls are especially vulnerable to roaming bands of soldiers. According to reports, they are kidnapped, raped and tortured. The rapes are carried out by gangs of armed militias, who commit atrocities that leave survivors traumatized and isolated. After the victims are raped, they are shunned by society and their families, and suffer lifelong health effects, including HIV. John Holmes, the UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, called the sexual violence in the Congo “the worst in the world.”
“If there had been peace, this would not have happened to us,” says Kasoke Kabunga. Like thousands of other women, Kabunga and her daughter were raped by armed militiamen in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Her daughter died. Kabunga survived, but contracted HIV/AIDS.
African female activists have been shedding light on the atrocities, including Congolese human rights activist Christine Schuler Deschryver who lives in Bukavu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the violence against women is the worst.
Deschryver, who recently appeared to talk about the plight of Congolese women on Democracy Now, a daily television and radio news program, said that the rapes are being carried out by random Hutus. “Sixty percent of these rapes are being carried out by them, the same people who made genocide in Rwanda, ” said Deschryver, who recently called the desecration of women in the Congo the “silent war.” “In the eastern part of the Congo, more than 200,000 women, children and babies are being raped every day.
“The attackers usually come at the end of the day or during the night,” said Deschryver. “They just come in and circle the villages. Most of the time, they kill all the men, and they take the children, the girls, the mothers, the grandmothers as sex slaves.”
Deschryver said that in many instances that the rapes are so violent, many of the women have to go undergo surgery to repair the injuries because they are completely destroyed. “Their attackers put wood, bamboo, even guns–they shoot inside the women, so they’re completely destroyed. We have some survivors in these hospitals and every two or three months they have to be re-operated on again.”
After being raped, the women suffer from a condition known as fistula where they cannot control their urine or bowel movements and suffer from infections.
In African communities, Deschryver reports, that rape is considered a stigma. “After they are raped, the women become pariahs in their communities. If they survive the rape, their husband will ask his wife to leave, most of the time with the children.”
Describing a 10-month old baby that was raped, Deschryver stated that, “The same militia gang raped the mother during a two-week period. The mother and the daughter came to Bukavu into my office. I wanted to bring the baby to the hospital, but she was so injured she died in my arms.”
Deschryver said she became involved in aiding the women of the Congo after the death of a close friend who was raped in 1998. “She was my best friend, she was like my sister. She was–she was raped in such a–I cannot describe the violence, because after she was raped by more than twenty men and after she was killed, we found more than a hundred holes with knives in her body,” And the husband had to assist–he was Canadian, and then they killed her husband.”
“So, for me, the most important thing is that the international community realizes that there’s a holocaust and to wake up and try to change something. People can help by talking about the problem that’s going on in the Congo, because it’s a silent war. And we are asking for the international community to be involved to try to find solutions and for the Congo to prioritize security of the population.”