Tuesday, August 19, 2008

War Against Women: The Use Of Rape As A Weapon In Congo's Civil War

(If you're in a hurry, skip past the video and just read the article excerpts I've posted. It's the type of story that makes one's "problems" seem non-existent.)

Right now there's a war taking place in the heart of Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and more people have died there than in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Darfur combined.
. . .
Dr. Denis Mukwege is the director of Panzi Hospital in eastern Congo. In this war against women, his hospital is the frontline. One of the latest victims he’s treating is Sifa M'Kitambala. She was raped just two days before the team arrived by soldiers who raided her village.

"They just cut her at many places," Dr. Mukwege explains.

Sifa was pregnant, but that didn't stop her rapists. Armed with a machete, they even cut at her genitals.

In the last ten years in Congo, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, most of them gang raped. Panzi Hospital is full of them.
. . .
"Has rape almost become the norm here?" Cooper asks Anneka Van Woudenberg, who is the senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"I think because of the widespread nature of the war, because there has been so much violence, rape is now on a daily basis - rape is the norm," Van Woudenberg replies.

"Women get raped in wars all the time. How is it different here?" Cooper asks.

"I think what's different in Congo is the scale and the systematic nature of it, indeed, as well, the brutality. This is not rape because soldiers have got bored and have nothing to do. It is a way to ensure that communities accept the power and authority of that particular armed group. This is about showing terror. This is about using it as a weapon of war," she explains.
. . .
In some villages as many as 90 percent of the women have been raped; men in the villages are usually unarmed, and incapable of fighting back. In Walungu the team found 24-year-old Lucienne M’Maroyhi. She was at home one night with her two children and her younger brother, when six soldiers broke in. They tied her up and began to rape her, one by one.

"I was lying on the ground, and they gave a flashlight to my younger brother so that he could see them raping me," she recalls.

"They were telling your brother to hold the flashlight?" Cooper asks.

"Yes," she says. "They raped me like they were animals, one after another. When the first one finished, they washed me out with water, told me to stand up, so the next man could rape me."

She was convinced they'd kill her, just as soldiers had murdered her parents the year before. Instead, they turned to her brother. "They wanted him to rape me but he refused, and told them, 'I cannot do such a thing. I cannot rape my sister.' So they took out their knives and stabbed him to death in front of me," she recalls.
. . .
"When they take a woman to rape her, they'll line up the family, they'll line up other members of the communities to actually witness that," Registre says. "They make them watch. And so, what that means for that particular woman when it's all over, is that total shame, personally, to have been witnessed by so many people as she's being violated."

Many of the women in Dr. Mukwege’s hospital are not only blamed for what happened to them, they are shunned because of fears they’ve contracted HIV and shunned because their rapes were so violent they can no longer control their bodily functions.

Dr. Mukwege says he's doing about five surgeries a day.

His patients often have had objects inserted into their vaginas, like broken bottles, bayonets. Some women have even been shot between the legs by their rapists.

"Why would somebody do that? Why would somebody shoot a woman inside?" Cooper asks.

"In the beginning I was asking myself the same question. This is a show of force, of power, it's done to destroy the person," Dr. Mukwege says. "Sex is being used to commit evil. People flee. They become refugees. They can't get help, they become malnourished and it's disease which finishes them off."
. . .
There may be no justice in Congo, but there are organizations trying to help rape survivors get back on their feet. "Women For Women" teaches survivors how to make soap, how to cook - skills they can use to earn money. They also learn how to read and write. It is the first time many of these women have ever been in a classroom - it is their chance for a whole new life.

Remember Lucienne M’Maroyhi? She’s jumped at that chance. She hopes to start her own business one day.

She is also now the mother of a little baby girl, born a year ago. The father is one of her rapists, one of the men who killed Lucienne's brother. She named the girl "Luck."

"I named her Luck because I went through many hardships," she explains. "I could have been killed in the forest. But I got my life back. I have hope."

Hope is not something you’d expect Congo’s rape survivors to still cling to. But they do.

Each morning in Panzi hospital they gather to raise their voices, singing at a religious service. Our sufferings on earth, they sing, will be relieved in heaven.

Relief in Congo, it seems, is just too much to ask for.
Full Story: 60 Minutes

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What has the world come to? :(