Rape as a Weapon of War

Heart posted an announcement about The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo, a groundbreaking documentary distributed by Women Make Movies that exposes the systematic rape and torture of thousands of women and girls happening in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), being used as a weapon of war. The broadcast premiere will air on HBO, April 8, 10pm.

The civil war in the Congo was supposedly over, but tell that to the women tortured by gang rapes so vicious the vaginal wall loses its integrity, shootings in the vagina carefully so as not to kill, or piercing labia to padlock their vaginas. These men are carrying on a competition to invent the most fiendish forms of torture they can imagine. Instead of battling each other directly, women are used as pawns in an endless cycle of revenge.

Heart posted an article by Suki Falconberg about these unspeakable atrocities against women. 60 Minutes did a special report January 13, 2008. New York Times did a story on the Rape Epidemic last fall.

Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War

“The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world,” said John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. “The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity — it’s appalling.”

Newsweek did a story on fistula rape over a year ago. Those stories do not mention padlocking vaginas. This may be a new or previously unreported tactic in the competition of revengeful men to inflict the most pain on women. Mainstream reporters may have found it too difficult to believe, since ritualized female genital mutilation is not prevalent in Congo, but Ms. Falconberg linked a photo. She writes:

Of the many rape zones on Rape Planet Earth, the Congo is currently the most savage. After gang raping women and girls, soldiers are piercing their labia and padlocking their vaginas shut. Hot plastic as well as sticks and bayonets are being inserted into the women. Six-month-old girls have been raped to death.

Gang rapes are so severe that many women are suffering from fistula (the tearing of the vaginal wall so that the contents of the colon and urine seep in). Unable to reach medical care, some women are dying of massive infections. Even if the women do reach a doctor, fistula is very hard to repair—few practitioners can do it.

To intensify the cruelty, soldiers are even shooting women in the vagina, destroying their systems so completely that numerous operations are necessary—and even then repair may not be possible.

More Vicious Than Rape

The atrocity reports from eastern Congo were so hellish that Western medical experts refused to believe them—at first.
By Rod Nordland | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Nov 13, 2006

This is about fistulas—and rape, which in Congo has become the continuation of war by other means. Fistulas are a kind of damage that is seldom seen in the developed world. Many obstetricians have encountered the condition only in their medical texts, as a rare complication associated with difficult or abnormal childbirths: a rupture of the walls that separate the vagina and bladder or rectum. Where health care is poor, particularly where trained doctors or midwives are not available, fistulas are more of a risk. They are a major health concern in many parts of Africa.

In eastern Congo, however, the problem is practically an epidemic. When a truce was declared in the war there in 2003, so many cases began showing up that Western medical experts at first called it impossible—especially when local doctors declared that most of the fistulas they were seeing were the consequence of rapes. “No one wanted to believe it at first,” says Lyn Lusi, manager of the HEAL Africa hospital (formerly called the Docs Hospital) in the eastern Congo city of Goma. “When our doctors first published their results, in 2003, this was unheard of.”

It had been no secret that nearly all sides in the Congo’s complex civil war resorted to systematic rape among civilian populations, and estimates were as high as a quarter million victims of sexual assault during the four-year-long conflict. But once fighting died down, victims began coming out of the jungles and forests and their condition was worse than anyone had imagined. Thousands of women had been raped so brutally that they had fistulas. They wandered into hospitals soaked in their own urine and feces, rendered incontinent by their injuries. “Pastors would say to me, ‘Jo, I can’t preach because the church is too smelly,” says Dr. Jo Lusi, a gynecologist and medical director at HEAL. (He and Lyn Lusi are husband and wife.) “No one wanted to be around them. These women were outcasts even more than rape victims usually are. They would say to me, ‘Dr. Jo, am I just a thing to throw away when I smell bad?’ ”

The rapes—and new reports of fistula damage—have not stopped. Even now, “It is still happening, even today,” says HEAL’s medical director, Doctor Lusi. “Every space we have in the hospital is very, very busy with people.” Most of the dozen or so militias in the country have signed on to peace terms, and their battles with each other and with the Congolese Army have mostly stopped since the arrival of United Nations peacekeepers. But many of the armed groups—even those that have made peace—continue to attack civilians, especially in rural areas. “They won’t go ahead and fight each other, [but] they attack that village that supports the other group,” says Lyn Lusi. “This is a horrible perpetual movement of militias. They join after their families are killed, sometimes right in front of them. They see their women raped, and then they go and do the same thing. It’s a cycle of violence.”

Ordinary rapes, even violent ones, do not usually cause fistulas, although it’s not medically impossible. Doctors in eastern Congo say they have seen cases that resulted from gang rapes where large numbers of militiamen repeatedly forced themselves on the victim. But more often the damage is caused by the deliberate introduction of objects into the victim’s vagina when the rape itself is over. The objects might be sticks or pipes. Or gun barrels. In many cases the attackers shoot the victim in the vagina at point-blank range after they have finished raping her. “Often they’ll do this carefully to make sure the woman does not die,” says Dr. Denis Mukwege, medical director of Panzi Hospital. “The perpetrators are trying to make the damage as bad as they can, to use it as a kind of weapon of war, a kind of terrorism.” Instead of just killing the woman, she goes back to her village permanently and obviously marked. “I think it’s a strategy put in place by these groups to disrupt society, to make husbands flee, to terrorize.”

Benga, 16, and Masoro, 17, ask themselves the same thing. The two friends were abducted along with their mothers from the remote South Kivu village of Nzingu. Their captors dragged them to an Interhamwe camp. “When we got there,” Masoro recalls, “they said, ‘This is a horrible place where girls and women suffer, and you will suffer also’.” They were kept tied to trees except when they were doing domestic chores or being raped. Their mothers were raped in front of the girls. Benga bursts into tears recalling the experience. “Their purpose is simply to ruin people, to rape people,” she says. “I don’t know why.”

No one can say why. The answer is almost too awful to consider, and impossible to understand.

Impossible to understand, says this male author. Perhaps he does not want to understand. This is the logical extreme of the male sense of entitlement. These men see women as pawns, subhuman property, to be used to make a point, to get back at the men of rival tribes who did similar things to their women. For that purpose, the worse they can hurt the women of their rivals, the better. They can revel in their cruelty, the sickly sweet taste of revenge. Women are less than human to these men. When they fight directly, they fight to kill, but death is not sufficient for the women; they must be made to suffer, as much as possible, the more the better they like it, torturing women the means to its own end, for its own sake. What is it about men that allows them to sink to this? All is fair in war, even the most sadistic forms of torture they can enjoy?

Men like to dismiss male violence against women as the actions of a few, so why should they have any responsibility, ignoring the issue of who else could. Men may justify disassociating for all sorts of reasons, but they should have some clue about what can make men abuse women so horribly. Men abuse women in many ways, ranging from such torture as pawns of tribal warfare to violence to control women in relationships. However men justify any of this, notwithstanding all the variations, it is all the same principle, that women are sex objects who must be controlled, as property or objects for the cruelest revenge.

Men are not dumb brutes. Why is it so hard to find a way to negotiate differences? Money and male pride? What can drive a man to assault women so viciously? What? Hatred of women inflamed by attack on their women? War is supposed to be a rational way of dealing with enemies? Men have it all backwards, as usual. Peacekeepers are in the Congo, but they cannot stop this. The men of the warring tribes have to come to terms, or let their women forge a settlement, or the cycle will continue to escalate.

What will it take to stop ethnic cleansing, if such brutality can go on with impunity? It is said, war is hell, all is fair in war, but there is such a concept as war crime. This deliberate maiming of women goes well beyond that. Did men not once have more than the worst form of revenge in their minds, even in battle? More peacekeepers might help, but that misses the point. What goes on in male brains, that makes them think this is an acceptable tactic of warfare? Is this expressing their sense of manhood? Honor? Decency? Fair play? Justice? Is all that out the window in the hot pursuit of revenge, so torturing women as savagely as conceivable becomes the end, the instrument to revenge what was done to the women of their tribe? Men, I ask, seriously, how can men do this? A woman has her theories and rage, but men must know what it is in them that makes this possible. What kind of war is this, maiming defenseless women in a brutality contest? What makes gang rape possible? How do men get off on such brutality? Is that fed by imagery of sexualized brutality? Is that not a booming business on this Internet? Why do men patronize such images, so clearly not about any kind of healthy sexuality? What makes rape possible, usually justifiable in the eyes of the rapist and many with a sympathetic view? Boys will be boys, so the most savage forms of rape and mutilation are justifiable revenge?

It is all connected, in the dark recesses of male minds who enjoy cruelty to women, inferior sex objects men must keep under control, or abuse as proxies to top the viciousness to make a statement of revenge. War and revenge may be expected to bring out the worst in people. If there are worse ways to torture women, it seems there are men determined to find it. It is too easy for men to disassociate, disown responsibility. If a man can sensibly explain how men can do this, I will approve the comment. I think men have a lot of explaining to do about raping, humiliating, battering women, and about war, political reality, and the ways men run things.

14 Responses to “Rape as a Weapon of War”

  1. Aletha Says:

    Eve Ensler went to visit Dr. Denis Mukwege, writing a long article for Glamour. Thanks to Anne Walker who posted the article, Women left for dead—and the man who’s saving them, at the Global Sisterhood Network.

  2. Nicole Hosein Says:

    Good Day Althea, thank you very much for this article. It is very well written. I particularly liked your commentry after the excerpt. My name is Nicole Hosein and I am a member of a feminist group called Consciousness Raising from Trinidad in the West Indies. I first heard about what ws happening in the Congo only a few days ago actually. I saw a special on BBC World and I was moved to tears, anger and frustration at what was going on. I recently posted your article on the group’s facebook page and hope to get some feedback which I would like to share with you. Why are women and children always the innocent victims in war? Why is there this horrendous torture happening to women and children? The artocities happening to these women and children long after a truce was declared is outrageous! Women have been and continue to be oppressed by men in ways that are beyond cruel and humiliating. The sisters and brothers of Consciousness Raising stand in support of their sisters in the Congo. We cannot physically be there with them at this time but our prayers and thoughts are with them. We will do what we can to raise awareness about their devastating situation in our country.

    Always in solidarity
    Nicole Hosein

  3. Aletha Says:

    I do not think that truce meant much to the warring parties, except possibly that now instead of battling directly, they prefer to use women as pawns in this horrendous cycle of revenge. That is nothing new, only possibly the sheer viciousness and scale of these atrocities are unusual, such that the Western experts at first did not want to believe it possible.

    I would be interested in any feedback you get about this. Most people have heard about the nightmare in Darfur, but for some reason, this situation in Congo is not so well publicized.

  4. Aletha Says:

    The Belfast Telegraph posted on Halloween a very long story about the situation in the Congo, Congo’s tragedy: the war the world has forgotten , which I found in a post at the Feminist Peace Network, Women’s Bodies Are The Battlefield Of War In The Democratic Republic Of Congo. Lucinda Marshall at FPN bolded this in her excerpt from that report:

    Even in this small province, South Kivu, the UN estimates that 45,000 women were raped last year alone.

    Will there be no end to this madness?

  5. Aletha Says:

    The United Nations has authorized a few thousand more peacekeepers, bringing the grand total to about twenty thousand to keep the peace in this nation the size of Western Europe. Soldiers are still raping and pillaging. From a Yahoo News Associated Press story

    Congo refugees suffer shooting, rape, looting
    By ANITA POWELL, Associated Press Writer
    Fri Nov 21, 2:40 pm ET

    KIBATI, Congo – Looting soldiers tried to rape one woman and fatally shot another at a refugee camp, witnesses said Friday, as the United Nations prepared to send more peacekeepers to help protect traumatized civilians in eastern Congo.

    But Congo’s president said the 3,100 additional troops proposed by the U.N. would not be enough to halt the unfolding disaster.

    Some 67,000 people have overrun the village of Kibati, just north of the provincial capital of Goma. The U.N. refugee agency said Friday it was postponing plans to move refugees from the area, which is near the front line between soldiers and rebels.

    “We fear that the civilian population, already in a dramatic and desperate humanitarian situation, could be caught in the crossfire should fighting resume in the area,” the refugee agency’s spokesman, William Spindler, said in Geneva.

    Shootings, looting and rape have plagued the already desperate lives of refugees.

    Tumayini Kahumba, 20, was fatally shot in the village Thursday night as she slept next to her mother and two siblings in a tent, uncle Jean-Dieu Bansi said.

    “When the soldiers got here, they wanted to rape a woman. She screamed a lot and the people woke up to help her. They (soldiers) began to shoot in the air to try to spread the crowd. They were also looting,” Bansi said.

    One gunshot pierced the tent and hit Kahumba near the ear.

    Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said 20 rapes were reported in a week at a health center in Goma, the eastern provincial capital, but that probably many more go unreported.

    There are hopeful signs amidst the turmoil. Other African nations may be willing to send in peacekeepers. Congo President Joseph Kabila hints he may be ready to talk to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, and the rebels apparently have some regard for the endangered gorillas.

    Meanwhile, rangers who protect Congo’s critically endangered mountain gorillas were allowed to return Friday to the park, whose headquarters were seized by rebels Oct. 26.

    “It is a huge step that all sides have agreed that the protection of Virunga as a World Heritage Site and its mountain gorillas is of sufficient priority to transcend political differences,” park director Emmanuel de Merode said.

    Friday’s agreement comes two days after rebel leaders pulled hundreds of fighters back from several front-line positions in what the U.N. said was a welcome step toward brokering peace.

    One can only hope a new peace agreement will mean more than the last one. The endless cycle of revenge is no respecter of peace agreements. There was a truce, but it was a farce; men stopped fighting each other, only to substitute raping women in unimaginably brutal ways as payback. The fighting has resumed, but rape continues to be a primary weapon of the warfare.

  6. Gino Van de Walle Says:

    When will the politians of the world finally stop talking and start taking some serious action in order to make an end to this cruelty? It’s also time for a change in that region!

  7. Aletha Says:

    Heart blogged about a protest march yesterday

    to denounce the impunity enjoyed by men who engage in sexual violence against women and children in conflict.

    Heart also linked to this update from Muadi Mukenge, head of the Africa program at the Global Fund for Women.

    Justice Long Overdue in the Congo
    Muadi Mukenge , New America Media
    Published 12/14/2008 – 2:13 p.m. GMT

    When I think of the women and girls who told us their horrifying experiences of sexual torture, I keep thinking of the modern weapons that make this torture possible, and the origins of these weapons. Certainly, they are not made in Congo.

    It is not coincidental that rebel forces armed with sophisticated weapons are in regions where minerals are most abundant. The Congo has been plundered for more than 100 years by explorers, colonial governments, multinational corporations, African opportunists, and a small circle of Congolese leaders. Meanwhile, the majority of the 66 million people in the country don’t have access to food, sanitation, education, transportation, healthcare or justice.

    Another major problem the people of Congo face is the United Nation’s slowness to protect them from violence. Many demonstrations have taken place throughout the Congo against the U.N. Mission for its apparent inaction. When will we see bold action to protect Congolese people, especially women?

    I am often asked what can be done to help the Congo. There are many efforts undertaken by Congolese women’s rights NGOs to rebuild their country and restore dignity. But these efforts will remain an uphill task as long as Western governments continue to send arms deliveries to rebel movements and oppressive governments.

    These efforts will also be in vain as long as the media place the spotlight on the leaders of armed movements that terrorize innocent people. No change will be made when there is no political will to respect past peace talks and accords. The Congolese people are waiting for a time when we will see action, instead of empty proclamations. We are waiting for justice that is long overdue. We know that 5 million deaths constitute genocide. We are waiting for the rest of the world to agree and act with us.

    The leaders of the rest of the world are more interested in the mineral riches of Congo than the plight of its people. That men are using rape as a weapon of war is a matter for United Nations to pass resolutions and pontificate solemnly about such horrendous war crimes, but effective action to stop it has not been forthcoming.

  8. Aletha Says:

    Lest anyone think the practice of rape as a weapon of war is confined to a few barbaric African tribes, Heart posted this story from the Christian Science Monitor about similar atrocities in Colombia.

  9. Aletha Says:

    Eve Ensler has written an editorial for the Washington Post about how Security Council Resolution 1820, recognizing sexual violence as a widely used strategy of warfare a year ago, proved to be a bunch of hot air.

    A Broken U.N. Promise In Congo
    By Eve Ensler
    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo — Just over a year ago, in answering whether sexual violence in conflict was an issue that the U.N. Security Council should take on, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proclaimed, “I am proud that, today, we respond to that lingering question with a resounding ‘yes!’ ” With this statement, and with the cooperation of other power brokers at the table, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1820, which finally recognized sexual violence as a widely used strategy of warfare and cleared the path for the council to respond to it worldwide.

    U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to report to the Security Council today on implementation of Resolution 1820. What will we learn? A year after adopting the resolution, Congo remains the worst place on the planet to be a woman. Over 12 years, in a regional economic war for resources, hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped and tortured, their bodies destroyed by unimaginable acts. The Security Council’s implementation of Resolution 1820 in Congo — the very place that inspired it — has been an utter failure.

    Rape as a weapon of war has increased in eastern Congo since June 2008. In January, military operations were launched in North Kivu with the supposed goal of arresting the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda and neutralizing his National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) troops as well as the FDLR, the former Rwandan Hutu genocidaires. Even now, with Resolution 1820 in place, no one considers the women. Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, just back from the front lines in both North and South Kivu, told me Monday that in nearly all the health centers, hospitals and rape counseling centers she visited, rape cases had doubled or tripled since January.

    Rapes continue to be committed with near complete impunity. While the number of criminal prosecutions has risen marginally, only low-ranking soldiers are being prosecuted. Not a single commander or officer above the rank of major has been held responsible in all of Congo. Rapes by the national army are increasing, too. MONUC, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, is not only allowing perpetrators to go unpunished but is also providing logistical support to them for their movements in the field. A blacklist of war criminals and rapists who were commanders in current operations was shown to the Security Council, which gave it to President Laurent Kabila. Despite incriminating evidence, none of the commanders was removed. Resolution 1820 was supposed to make the United Nations more sensitive to the issue of sexual violence. How is it possible that in the past year, the United Nations became complicit in supporting rapists as commanders in its operations?

    The U.N. spin on operations in the Congo is upbeat. The secretary general lauded their success in a March 8 commentary in the International Herald Tribune. Successful for whom? Chantal, a 3-year-old who was raped so brutally by militia soldiers that she died on the way to the hospital? All her sisters were raped, too.

    How is this possible? In the context of war, men generally view rape as a minor issue. Like civilian casualties, rape is seen as unavoidable collateral damage of war. Presumably this is possible the same way it is possible for USA and NATO to support the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, despite their brutal actions toward women rivaling the depredations of the Taliban. Not to mention USA and NATO continuing to prop up Hamid Karzai after he went out of his way to support legislation making it perfectly legal for Shia men to rape their wives. President Obama and Hillary Clinton expressed outrage, and Karzai promised to have the offending language removed, but that was a sham. He did it to bolster his support among the Shia in view of the upcoming election, and I have heard nothing to suggest the bill has been revised.

  10. Aletha Says:

    Hillary Clinton met with some of the survivors of these atrocities today. This story is from Reuters

    Clinton sees victims of Congo violence
    Tue Aug 11, 2009 6:46pm EDT
    By Sue Pleming

    GOMA, Congo (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw first hand on Tuesday the violence against women and children in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and demanded the government to do more to protect civilians.

    Clinton spoke in the eastern Congolese city of Goma, capital of North Kivu province which aid groups say is the most dangerous place on earth for women and children.

    “We are very concerned about civilian casualties, both deaths and rapes, and other injuries from the military action,” she told a news conference after meeting President Joseph Kabila.

    Clinton, who has made raising awareness of violence against women a priority during her visit, met victims of sexual violence and urged Congo and the United Nations to punish perpetrators.

    “The atrocities that so many have suffered distils evil into its most basic form,” she said.

    “Those who attack civilian populations using systematic rape are guilty of crimes against humanity,” she told a meeting of aid workers.

    After meeting Kabila, Clinton visited Mugunga, a squalid, sprawling camp for displaced people outside Goma where about 18,000 people have sought refuge.

    Clinton, who announced $17 million in new funds to help victims of sexual violence, made a brief tour of the camp and told its inhabitants she was working to end their plight.

    “I told President Kabila we want to help end the violence so that you can go home,” she told Chantal Mapendo, head of a women’s group in the camp.

    Mapendo replied: “What we really want you to do is bring hope and peace to our country.”

    Later, Clinton told reporters a harrowing story of one woman she spoke to whose stomach was ripped open with a razor blade in her eighth month of pregnancy by attackers and the baby killed. The woman was rescued in the forest by medical workers but had suffered serious injuries.

    “It was an incredibly emotional and overwhelming experience,” Clinton said, choking up.


    Clinton addressed the question of the trade in minerals including considerate and coltan, which are dug in eastern Congo for use in consumer electronics such as mobile phones and whose sale funds armed groups in the region.

    “The international community must start looking at steps we can take to try to prevent the mineral wealth from the DRC ending up in the hands of those who fund the violence,” she said.

    In Goma, tens of thousands of displaced people are packed into camps and vulnerable to attacks. The United Nations has accused all sides of human rights abuses in Congo, including mass killings, rape and lootings.

    Medical workers told Clinton that young boys were also a target and that an eight-year old male had been raped a day earlier in the Mugunga camp.

    “The problem is impunity,” said Giorgio Trombatore of the International Medical Corps.

    Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence had been reported in eastern Congo since 1996.

    There was some scepticism over whether Clinton’s visit would make much difference to Congo.

    “All we have got is a pile of business cards,” said women’s advocate Christine Schuler-DeSchryver of previous visits by celebrities and diplomats to Goma.

    “I do not want to over-promise. I am not here to leave a business card, but I do not have a magic wand either,” Clinton said in response.

    True, she has no magic wand, but USA and other nations could be doing a lot more. The campaign of terror men on all sides are waging against women in this war has never been a high priority for nations coveting the mineral wealth, and notwithstanding Clinton making an issue of these “crimes against humanity,” it is doubtful her visit will change anything.

  11. Aletha Says:

    Hillary Clinton used much more precise and direct language last week, during a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

    Speaking at a public forum in Nairobi, Kenya, Secretary Clinton previewed her upcoming stop in the eastern DRC city of Goma by saying she will use the occasion to denounce violence against women in the conflict area.

    “I’ll be in Goma. And I will be there primarily to speak out against the unspeakable violence against women and girls in eastern Congo. It is the worst example of man’s inhumanity to women,” she said.

    Why when on the scene did she resort to the gender-neutral language construct, crimes against humanity? Was it because of the boys who had also been raped? Was she pressured to tone down her unapologetic denunciation of male atrocities against women? Raping males can also be a weapon of war, and the sex of the victim does not make the crime any more or less atrocious, but presumably the vast majority of people men have raped in this war zone are female.

  12. Aletha Says:

    This was my response to an avid Clinton supporter on a related thread at womensspace.org, thrilled that she was finally putting it out there:

    I doubt anyone doubted that Hillary Clinton could put it out there, but unfortunately US actions speak louder than words. Lucinda Marshall at the Feminist Peace Network points out how US policy is making life worse for women in DRC. She says in her entry U.S. Actions Belie U.S. Words When It Comes To Protecting Women In The DRC (& Afghanistan &Iraq) From Violence

    On a stop in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kind of sort of called for an end to the unspeakable sexual violence that is being perpetrated on the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo,saying,

    “We do support the efforts to end the militias and the violence they have visited so terribly on the people of the eastern Congo,” Clinton said. But she added: “We believe that a disciplined, paid army is a more effective fighting force. We believe that more can be done to protect civilians while you are trying to kill and capture insurgents.”

    And then there is this–turns out, according to the Washington Post, that we are backing those that have escalated this crisis:

    For the women of eastern Congo, a U.S.-backed Congolese military operation meant to save them from abusive rebels has turned into a nightmare of its own.

    An already staggering epidemic of rape has become markedly worse since the January deployment of tens of thousands of poorly trained, poorly paid Congolese soldiers, with people in front-line villages such as this one saying the soldiers are not so much hunting rebels as hunting women.

    (Bolds hers) Ms. Marshall also posted a couple of entries denouncing the Shia Personal Status Law and the sorry excuse USA and Britain floated for not protesting it, concern that a strong protest might disrupt the election.

    So Secretary Clinton is capable of direct language on behalf of oppressed women, but meanwhile US policy seems pretty much business as usual. As Ms. Marshall says,

    While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about the rights of women in Africa, Shia women in Afghanistan have now legally become nothing more than sex slaves. Where is the outcry from the American government, or would that not be in our best interests?

    This law is a gross violation of human rights and the international community and especially the United States which put the Karzai government in place should demand it’s immediate repeal. As this makes painfully clear, the notion that the U.S. would liberate Afghan women was and is a terrible lie. That their lives are considered nothing more than pawns in the power struggle to control Afghanistan is truly a failing of American foreign policy and all that is decent.

    The President is more directly responsible for foreign policy than the Secretary of State, but still, where is her outcry? Is her criticism of abuses of women limited to what would not come into conflict with US policy? This is one of my issues with mainstream Democratic feminists. It seems all too often they are Democrats first and feminists second.

  13. Aletha Says:

    The rapes are still going on, and very little is being done about it. This story is from BBC News

    UN peacekeepers ‘failed’ DR Congo rape victims
    7 September 2010 Last updated at 21:13 ET

    UN peacekeepers have “failed” the victims of mass rape in eastern DR Congo, a senior UN official has said.

    Atul Khare told the Security Council that the scale of systematic rape by armed rebels was far worse than feared.

    He said that up to 500 women and children were now believed raped in recent weeks – more than double the previously reported figure.

    Mr Khare, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, was sent to DR Congo by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to investigate the attacks in July and August.

    He reported to the Security Council that although 242 rapes had earlier been reported in and around Luvungi, a village not far from a UN peacekeepers’ camp, 260 more rapes had come to light in the Uvira area and other regions of North and South Kivu.

    Mr Khare said he had learned of 74 attacks in a village called Miki, in South Kivu. The victims included 21 children – all girls aged between seven and 15 – and six men.

    All the women in another village, Kiluma, may have been systematically raped, he said.

    “While the primary responsibility for protection of civilians lies with the state, its national army and police force, clearly, we have also failed,” he said.

    “Our actions were not adequate, resulting in unacceptable brutalisation of the population of the villages in the area. We must do better.”

    The BBC’s Thomas Hubert, in Goma, said the Congolese government was pleased to see the UN shoulder some of the responsibility for failing to stop human rights abuses, but disappointed that there was no stronger commitment to tackle rebel groups.

    Government spokesman Lamert Mende called on the UN to support its national army more directly against the militias.

    Unfortunately there are still reports of Congolese government forces committing some of these rapes. No one has clean hands in this war zone. The women are pawns in an endless cycle of retribution.

    More on the strange twists of this conflict from an August 27 BBC News Q&A

    But as the battles in the east have rumbled on, the allegiances and intentions of the major players have become increasingly murky.

    Warlords have been absorbed into the army but are widely accused of carrying out atrocities and running their own personal militias.

    Army commanders have been accused of supplying the FDLR – the very rebels they are supposed to be fighting.

    Human rights groups say the army and the FDLR are working together to exploit mines.

    And Human Rights Watch has suggested the UN is risking becoming complicit in atrocities against civilians.

    In November 2009, a report by UN-commissioned experts said UN involvement had done nothing to quell the violence – with rebels continuing to kill and plunder natural resources with impunity and claims the rebels are supported by an international crime network stretching through Africa to Western Europe and North America.

    UN peacekeeping troops continue to back efforts to defeat the FDLR, but rights groups have warned that it will be impossible to defeat the FDLR without tackling their backers.

    In August 2010, the UN force came in for more criticism for not doing anything to stop the rape of more than 150 women and children within miles of their base near Luvungi, saying they only heard about the attacks 10 days afterwards.

    Rape has been part of war since time immemorial, but the sheer scale and brazenness of these war crimes may be unusual. Why in this day and age are wars allowed to go on at all? One major purpose of the United Nations is to settle disputes peaceably. This may seem impractical, but I have to ask, will men ever grow up? Men feel entitled to kill each other, to rape women as a means of retribution, to commit all manner of atrocities because their compulsions to exact revenge and plunder are stronger than their capacity to reason? I do not believe that, but it is clear that capacity to reason goes out the window when men find a reason to fight.

  14. Aletha Says:

    Eve Ensler has written a furious article for the Ms. blog, explaining why she is over it with the coverage, studies, and inaction about the continuing plague of rape in the DRC.

    1,100 Congolese Women Raped Each Day: I Am Over It
    Here’s what I Am Over
    400 thousand women getting raped a year in the Democratic Republic of Congo
    48 women getting raped an hour
    1,100 raped a day

    I Am Over
    This being new/news. The world responding to these statistics as if it’s the first time they ever heard anything about the atrocities in the Congo, when Western white people make reports the rapes exist. When the Congolese who live amidst the madness speak out, scream out, cry out, do we not believe them? Hear them? Do they not matter?

    I Am Over
    UN envoys and specialists and NGOs and governments debating statistics as if any of these numbers mattered. Who needs another report? Why should people waste precious time when we know the facts — have known the facts for over 13 years?

    I Am Over
    The money it takes and the countless hours and the drain on the women to do these studies.
    It turns out the women of Congo already know they were raped.

    How many more ways do you need to know it, hear it, understand that there is femicide in the Congo and the women and girls are being systematically and consistently destroyed? How many more times are we going to ask Congolese women and little girls to sit and re-experience their stories of horror so that those who come from the West can make yet another new report that does absolutely nothing to prevent them from being raped or hold their rapists accountable? How many more time are we going to drag Panzi Hospital’s Dr. Denis Mukwege and City of Joy/V-Day Congo’s Christine Schuler Deschryver and AFEM’s Chouchou Namegabe on world rape talking tours, forcing them to reopen their wounded hearts and traumas? Is this sport?

    How many more raped women and girl children will do the trick? A million every year, all the 2 million raped women raped again and again?

    I Am Over
    The stories. The horror. The nightmare.

    I am over the pornographic repetition of gross sexual invasion and destruction and the mad distraction of the accumulation of statistics.

    I Am Over
    President Obama, who won’t, who can’t even enact a law he created before he became a super warrior president. The 2006 Obama Law (Public Law 109-456) calls for a Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region and allows the U.S. to hold countries playing a part in the war on Congo’s soil accountable by withholding aid. What is he waiting for?

    I Am Over
    President Obama and his team leaping head first into the protection of Libya with military might and intervention (which by the way I am not calling for anywhere in the world) when the situation, as terrible as it is, is no where near the humanitarian disaster of the Congo. With Congo, he seems completely immobilized to move with any real diplomatic will because, as the devoted Congolese activist Kambale Musavuli says, “[t]he suspicion many analysts share is that the U.S. is quick to act against its enemies while providing cover for its allies, even if its allies are clearly culpable for committing mass atrocities, crimes against humanity and possible genocide…”

    I Am Over
    A world that could allow, has allowed, continues to allow 400 thousand women, 23,00 women, or one woman to be raped anywhere, anytime of any day in the Congo.

    The women of Congo are over it too. When I was there last month they told me they were going to begin a story strike and stop telling about their rapes. They want peace. They are not entertainment. Their suffering is not for consumption. Dr. Mukwege didn’t plan or desire to spend his life sewing up the raped and destroyed vaginas of the beloved women of his country. When will the time come when we give Dr. Mukwege awards for bringing life into this world, for helping the women of his country thrive and give birth and build lives, instead of awarding him for the sorrowful work he is required to do?

    What is President Obama waiting for? He certainly is selective about putting pressure on governments who abuse their people. If those governments are considered friendly, it seems to be hands off. Obama and Secretary of State Clinton took long enough to decide to put any pressure on Hosni Mubarak; after it became clear he would not be able to maintain his position, suddenly USA decided it wanted to be on the right side of history. Libya has lots of oil, and Gaddafi has not been seen as a reliable US ally. This bears repeating:

    … the U.S. is quick to act against its enemies while providing cover for its allies, even if its allies are clearly culpable for committing mass atrocities, crimes against humanity and possible genocide…

    USA talks a good game about human rights, but its real interests are that of a less than benevolent empire.

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