On September 2012, a Congolese doctor stood before the world's leaders at the United Nations General Assembly and denounced the mass rapes of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the impunity enjoyed by those responsible. Dr. Mukwege said he was ashamed of the international community's failure to stop these atrocities. A month later, he was attacked in his residence in Bakavu, DRC, and was forced into exile. Dr. Mukwege, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 and in 2013, returned to the Congo earlier this year in January to resume his work at the Panzi Hospital. There, he treats victims of sexual violence in a country ripped apart by sixteen years of conflict. According to the UN, "Sexual violence in the Congo is the worst in the world." Around 500,000 women have been raped in the country since 1996. Dr. Mukwege shared his insights with the Journal about the Congolese crisis and the role of women in conflict. (1)
Journal of International Affairs: You have argued that violence against women and rape in the Congo is a "strategy of war." However, some experts believe that a wider social problem has developed during the extended conflict. Do you think that there are other non-strategic factors that are contributing to an extraordinary high level of rape in the Congo today?
Denis Mukwege: Yes, there are other factors that are contributing to the problem. This has been happening for fifteen years, and of course it has a tremendous impact on younger generations. When a child witnesses his mother or his sister being raped, tortured, and killed, what impact does this have on him? What view will he have of women? How is he going to respect them?
But there is also a legal problem. There is a culture of impunity and the law enforcement does not help to prosecute rapists. The international community is indifferent, and the government is incapable of bringing perpetrators to justice.
The culture of impunity prevailing in the Congo has seriously undermined efforts to establish the rule of law and the confidence of the population in their institutions, leading to an erosion of public morality. The absence of proper reintegration mechanisms in DDR (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration) processes has also further exposed society as many former combatants and child soldiers are still perpetrating their bad habits, including sexual crimes and abuses, once they return to civilian life. Poverty, isolated communities...