Sexual violence crime (SV) in wartime is not a new phenomenon. Mass rapes have occurred in armed conflicts in Rwanda, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, to give just a few examples. But the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has attracted very large amounts of international attention.
What makes SV committed in the DRC different from others? One reason is the magnitude and brutal nature of it. Reports by respected observers, such as the Human Rights Watch, have found that SV is used as a weapon of war by all parties involved in the long-standing conflict in the eastern provinces of Kivu.
Rape and other forms of SV (kidnapping, sexual slavery, gang rapes, and forced marriages) have been used as tools to win and maintain authority over civilians in territories occupied by rebel groups. SV is often committed in front of families and villagers to terrorize and control the local population. Women and girls of all ages have been raped (from a 23-month old baby, to an 84-year old). Recent reports show that the incidence of SV committed by civilians has increased due to the impunity prevailing in regions affected by the conflicts. According to data collected from local health centres in Kivu, about 40 women are raped every day. The data reveals that 13 per cent of these victims are under 14-years of age, 3 per cent die as a result of the rape, and 10-12 per cent contract HIV/AIDS. One recent study estimated 1,100 rapes per month between November 2008 and March 2009.
Towards better responses
Most victims do not report the crime for fear of being outcast and stigmatized. Sadly, this also impedes efforts to collect data on SV in the DRC. The victims suffer from life-long physical and psychological trauma, impairing their ability to participate in the development of their communities and making them more vulnerable.
The international response to SV has taken the form of either legal or medical aid. The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR 1325) recognizes that women and children are adversely affected by armed conflicts and calls on states to take special measures to protect women and children from gender-based violence. UNSCR 1820 goes further by recognizing SV as a tactic of war, which exacerbates situations of armed conflicts, and impedes the restoration of peace and security. The UN also includes SV as a crime against humanity in the mandate of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
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