Women's Bodies as a Battleground

Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls During the War in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Kivu (1996-2003)

<p>The world today is experiencing a new type of armed conflict, different from the more traditional war between nations. These new conflicts are characterised by the ‘privatisation’ of violence6 and the use of private armies, community self-defence groups and paramilitary forces, but above all by ethnically-based militias – combatants who have no regard for international agreements and protocols, who attack civilians and take them hostage. These acts of violence, which are inflicted on entire populations very often include rape and other forms of sexual violence, both against women, and, increasingly, also against men.</p><p>In 1996, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the Great Lakes region of Africa experienced a first war. This was in part due to internal factors but the country had also been affected by the shockwaves of the conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi, which had a significant destabilising effect on eastern DRC. These conflicts represent a real challenge in geopolitical terms; they have altered the overall military picture in Africa and have made a deep impression on the rest of the world, both because of the complex and entangled nature of the various forces present in the territories affected, and the appalling number of civilian victims.</p><p>The province of South Kivu, the focus of this study, borders on both Rwanda and Burundi, and has therefore served as the point of entry for the foreign troops who have made their way across the province in all directions since 1996. Before then, in 1994, South Kivu had received more than 1.5 million Rwandan refugees, escorted there by French troops in ‘Opération Turquoise’ after the crushing defeat of the former Rwandan army. The military situation in this part of the DRC is extremely complex and this study briefly describes the various armed groups that are active in South Kivu, either on their own or in alliance with others, according to whatever is in their own interest at any one time.</p><p>Another characteristic of the armed conflicts in the DRC is the degree of cruelty and the scale of the rape and sexual violence committed against women, young girls and sometimes men. The scale of this violence, which some observers have called ‘murderous madness’,7 prompted RFDP and RFDA, with the support of International Alert, to examine the socio-cultural roots of this violence and the different forms that it takes. Some attention has been paid to these issues by other local and international organisations, but existing studies on sexual violence against women in South Kivu concentrate mainly on describing and condemning these inhumane acts, and on underlining the fact that they constitute a violation of women’s human rights. However, no less important is the fact – observed and highlighted in other studies – that this type of violence is rarely an isolated phenomenon and that, on the contrary, there is a strong link between violence committed at individual, institutional and structural level.</p><p>This study is based on extensive data, obtained from detailed interviews with 492 rape victims and from the examination of files relating to 3,000 victims of rape and sexual violence kept by local organisations. Fifty members of the armed forces were interviewed, but their statements on the whole were rather vague and evasive compared with those of the victims.</p><p>The aim of the study, which is divided into nine chapters, is to contribute to an understanding of sexual violence in South Kivu. Chapter 1 begins with a description of the methodology used. Chapter 2 looks at the socio-economic, political and military context of South Kivu, also showing how the violence is perceived from a socio-cultural standpoint; Chapter 3 discusses the position of women in South Kivu society and Chapter 4 sets out the socio-demographic characteristics of those interviewed. The study also examines the extent of the violence, the forms that it takes and its perpetrators as well as identifying the survival strategies deployed by victims and their communities. Chapter 5 sets out the various forms of rape committed and Chapter 6 describes not only the physical and psychological consequences for victims of rape and sexual violence, but also the social consequences of these acts. Chapter 7 scrutinises the motives for these violent acts both as perceived by the victims themselves, and also on the basis of the statements made by those few perpetrators who agreed to talk about them. The institutional response – ie, that of local and state authorities – is covered in Chapter 8, with a particular focus on how Congolese legislation deals with sexual violence, while Chapter 9 highlights the role of civil society, which takes care of victims in a variety of ways.</p><p>Recommendations are made on the basis of the research findings, with a view to raising awareness among all those – activists, researchers but above all decision-makers with a particular interest in the situation of victims of rape and sexual violence who are working to eliminate this crime against humanity.</p>

  • Author(s):
    International Alert
    Réseau des Femmes pour un Développement Associatif, Réseau des Femmes pour la Défense des Droits
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  • Date:
    April 2005
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