See also:
» 28.11.2008 - UN rights agency calls for action in eastern DRC
» 27.05.2008 - Bemba's arrest spurs protest
» 08.05.2008 - DRC projects attract $60m
» 29.04.2008 - ICC unseals DRC warrant
» 17.04.2008 - UN Congo mission lauded
» 14.03.2008 - Makeba meets rape survivors
» 08.02.2008 - DRC: UN hails warlord's arrest
» 19.11.2007 - Congo sexual abuse probed

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Congo Kinshasa
Gender - Women | Human rights

Many to blame for war crimes against Congo's women

Congolese woman in prayer

© Unjin Lee / afrol News
afrol News, 29 November
- In the fertile hills of eastern Congo Kinshasa (DRC), the region's women tell tales of war crimes crueller than others can imagine. They are angry with brutal rebels groups, Rwandans, the national army, mineral companies and the US, which they say supplied the arms. And the greatest war crime of all, they warn, is not letting their voices be heard even today.

Passing through rugged hills, vast tracts of unoccupied land and pure water masses with very few human settlements, one arrives eastern Congo's main centre Uvira. Could these hills have been once full of human populations? Were they the spoils of war? The greatest crime against humanity of which we are all guilty of is letting this war drag on in silence and waiting too long after the cease fire to help in reconciliation or reconstruction, local women say.

Uvira is a rich and fertile rural town set upon hills. It is also an area filled not by victims but survivors. 80 percent of rural women here are illiterate but this does not prevent them from demonstrating strength and eloquence in their interaction with outsiders.

Here, most of the women one meets bear personal account on rapes and even fistula as a result of guns being shoved up their wombs. This rural women offer graphic details on what they underwent with some saying even young babies as young as 2 months old were not spared.

As the illiteracy rate among these women is high, their understanding of the conflict is blurred. One sees many young women whose faces have aged well beyond their time. The stop of arms flow into the country and a chance to be left to farm their fertile land is what they say they need.

There is also a strong anti-American sentiment expressed by the women. It is USA that brings the arms, they say and it is America that actually hosts the big multinationals that are "arming rebels and stealing our resources away."

As one woman aptly puts it, "if Congo was not as fertile, we would be all dead!"

The people bemoan a conflict that has since come to an end yet the scars are still as raw as yesterday. The complexity of this resource-based conflict is evidenced by the various versions one gets while trying to understand the genesis.

One woman from eastern Congo in the Lutheran Church swears it began from the resource-hungry Interahamwe - an armed group strongly involved in Rwanda's 1994 genocide - who were once the influx of refugees from neighbouring Rwanda and were originally warmly welcomed. One other woman says it was all a perpetration of big American multinationals coming to cash in on the rich minerals found deep in the forests of Congo.

Yet another rural lady named Esperance - but whose life is far from hopeful - swears by the notoriety of the Banyamulenge

Two Congolese rape survivors, both HIV positive, in a small clinic in Luvungi

© Unjin Lee / afrol News
people, the Congolese relatives of Rwanda's Tutsi people. There are yet others who blame Congolese woes upon the assassination of their hero first President Patrice Lumumba and the pillage and plunder of state resources by ex-President Mobutu Sese Seko.

There are hundreds of women who like Esperance are named after hope but fear that they are losing hope. Women have borne the brunt of the cruel devastation of this war and still live with huge scars.

Mawazo has been raped in full view of her family then her uterus been shot at by the Interahamwe. Malaika has been demonised by the rebels by being asked to sleep with her own father or choose death, then raped by five men and even after begging for mercy from the fifth shot in the uterus and lost her mind. She has been lucky to receive some psycho-social support through the Lutheran Church in Bukavu.

Other women have not been as lucky. Upendo has no husband, no education and no shelter. Since being raped by the rebel groups, she was chased away by her husband who found he had no need for her. She works in Bukavu for an organisation that asks women to carry heavy weights for a fee so as to make ends meet. It is some beginning but from the labour in her voice, she is very unhappy and still carries the weight of her experience.

Like the fabric that these women adorn, everyday is the kind of rape they have been subjected to. There is gang rape, incestuous rape, HIV/AIDS infected rape, reproductive organ destructive rape and death rape. All these women have suffered so much and their lives are a contradiction to the bright clothes, matching bags and colourful scarves they wear.

Moving into Bukavu, an urban town, one finds however educated women and a growing civil society organisation. Some of the women were even competing in the recently held general elections. These educated women have vowed to rebuild their society.

Here, human rights activists like Solange carry themselves with dignity. Groups like the Inheritors of Justice also talk about the conflict and indeed corroborate all the rape stories told by rural women. They are filling an important gap by helping the victims of sexual crimes access help and assisting in bringing known perpetrators of the sexual violence to justice. They live under constant death threats due to this.

Here is a more academic approach to a conflict they declare fi

Terrazita, age 20, was raped and held as a sex slave by rebel militias in the forest for 13 months. Terrazita escaped to Panzi Hospital and received fistula surgery. She is holding her child, who was born of rape.

© Unjin Lee / afrol News
rmly, is resource-based stemming from poor governance, hosting of refugees from neighbouring countries and the same refugees being used by multinationals to wreck havoc on peace while the multinationals collect the mineral resources.

What they cannot understand is the cruel weapon of war that was used against the Congolese people and why the basic fabric of society was torn apart. They see it as an extermination of the Congolese people. They view neighbouring Rwanda with suspicion.

Along with these activists, the Church in the eastern Congo is now trying to play a pivotal role in bringing people together as well as rebuilding families and offering hope through their teachings. In a country where the basic political unit had been reaped apart through so much gender based violence, it is a story of hope that the church has embraced so many outcasts.

Like all good things however, abuse is beginning to creep into church and rural women complain that some men in their churches have all the leadership positions and control the way funds flow into their rural based projects. They are begging for direct access to the funds. The men ask for control, in the name of the father, the women report.

There is however a resounding cry that is heard right across the eastern part that asks the American government to stop the flow of arms into the nation and allow the Congolese to manage their own affairs and be self reliant.

The women however all agree that enough is enough, ask that their stories be heard and ask that they in Congo Kinshasa be left to till their fertile land, run their projects, sing their songs, worship and just enjoy peace as they reconstruct their society. Their specific plea is for those who were raped and violated to receive trauma and counselling.

In the meantime churches are brimming to the full, atop each hill is a church, women step out in elegance and children are still being born. A sign that this dignified society will go on as women sing with gladness as they find therapy, hoping that the international community shall here their voices.

By Judy Amunga Ndibo
Ms Ndibo is a Kenyan lawyer, journalist and a conflict resolution practitioner. She visited Uvira as part of a team from the US-based Christian Peace Makers.

Photos by Unjin Lee
Ms Lee is currently pursuing a MA/Ph.D in Womens' Studies

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