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Rape as a Weapon of War: Misandry vs. Misogyny

My Opinion about Systematic use of Rape and Torture in the Conflict in the Congo

 

By Rutagengwa Claude Shema

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)

 

 

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A) Rape

Rape in DR Congo (République démocratique du Congo, DRC) has been used as a war weapon in different ways. But the fundamental reasons can vary as  well. Military on the front line can spend a long time in jungle without having sex, or even without seeing someone of the opposite sex. This can increase the extreme desire and needs of sex.

The first category – individual rape - normally is less violent. The second category is often violent, because normally it is done by more than one man, and less than 5. The most cruel category is gang-rape, where a single woman, regardless the age of the victim(s), can be multi-raped by more than 10 armed men.
Mostly, this kind of rape is based on identity and ethnic facts, and can be complex because of the large number of different parties in conflict. You can imagine how it would be in case one victim is from an opposite clan/tribe/ethnic. In other words, if the rape victim is from part A which is an enemy of part B, the part  A will revenge cruelly on woman(women) from the opposite part.

From a purely military viewpoint, the group or gang-rape can be done as a strategy to fulfill the desires of the militia/military soldiers - whatsoever called, as they do when they get ammunition or weapons, food medicines, or other daily needs. This may be done to mobilize and increase the morale of combatants. And at last but not least, looting and use of the enemy’s belongings including women and cattle has been used as a strategy to defeat the enemy and to increase self wealth as well, as a long-established tradition in DRC military philosophy. Actually, the same applies to the entire region.
Sadly, the consequences are enormous to women after rape. Among others, the conflict between victim and spouse, especially based on stigma, because she is considered as no longer real since she has been raped, and she is disregarded and suffers great prejudice. The main reason for the stigma is highlighted by husbands of victims who no longer feel comfortable or well regarded by relatives, friends or neighbors, and the fear of sexual transmitted diseases arises. Psychologically, there is another invisible and untold reason of stigma by men, which is guilt because there is no way to prevent or to help the beloved wife’s rape. Then the spouse’s first feeling is to run away from the victim, or better to chase away the wife to be able to forget that image which is the source of sorrow and anger on man’s side.

And the situation is getting worse and worse, with no hope for better days soon, because the conflict remains intractable between different rival factions on the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
                                                                                            
B) Torture

In my experience in this country, torturing is part of the training that combatants and even official military soldiers learn from the so called “Military Training Wing”, or “Informal Rebel Fighting Academies” in DRC and many other different countries in Africa. Some inhumane acts like mutilation are part of the lessons learned there. Torturing and rape (of all kinds), for fighters, is aims:


- to increase military moral
- to decrease the military morale of the enemy
- to show the ability to the enemy
- recognition
- to offend the enemy
- to get support of local people through terror
- to use looting and the maximum of an enemy’s belongings (including women and children).

Mainly, children and women are targets because they are part of a vulnerable group, and they can contribute positively - according to the armed group and official military soldiers - to sustain or increase military morale (forced sex and forced labor). This also can be based on the courage and priceless role of women in the country, because they are regarded as hard workers and pivotal actors of any single home’s well being.

On the another hand, the philosophy of misogyny vs misandry in this case can be seen as hindering beneath by fueling the situation as well. But this is long process of informal and formal education, to be able to replace the status quo of informal militia training lessons which is completely misogynist, and then replace it structurally.  

The current political situation in the Congo (as of 2008)

The political situation in the entire country is promising more or less. The new regime is trying to rebuild the country almost from zero, and trying also to go through negotiations with the enemies (internal and external), but still there is lack of open space for negotiations with all concerns, and sometimes the rigidity and human rights oppression by officials. There is not enough willingness to end the historical conflict in Eastern Congo, while all stakeholders assume that the ultimate way to end is to negotiate with warlords like the renegade General Laurent Nkunda (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3786883.stm),and other known armed militia groups in the country. That means that the rape and other war crimes and crimes against humanity are still being made, and will be the same scenario even in the near future.

Recent general elections are also a real milestone towards a peaceful society. But practically, the situation is still the same, and there is a long way to go towards a peaceful society of Congolese.

The integration of militia into the official army has been stipulated by UN security council resolution nr 1291(2000) of 24 February 2000, and is known as DDRRR(disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration and resettlement of combatants(including foreign combatants) - see http://www.unddr.org/countryprogrammes.php?c=25 .

This resolution is a pivotal sediment in this regard, but it seems that still there are some obstacles to make it, because the rebel groups also have the pre-requisite for any reintegration. The complexity of conflict in this region also is that there are so many different rival factions of Congolese citizens, but also a number of foreign combatants who are cruel on the ground as well, like FDLR, which is  composed mainly of former  Rwanda Interahamwe hutu militia (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/288937.stm) or  http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.htm?tbl=RSDCOI&page=research&id=3decf4b24     http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/fdlr.htm

So far, the Rwandan government has refused any negotiation with FDLR, accusing them of war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity, while the relationship between FDLR and the Kinshasa regime is sinking. But still FDLR is a major actor in the conflict of Congo and  even for the whole great lakes region of Africa. And they have been put on the list of major terror groups in the region by the US administration. Their strategy is to kidnap people, especially children and women, and keep them in jungles as sex slaves or combatants, at the same time - together with old people – use them as a human shield as well.

Conclusion

Many options can be thought of in order to prevent or to halt sexual violence in DRC, but the important and ultimate thing to do is to create a short-cut for a common ground for talks with all concerns and ignite the willingness on both sides for mutual acceptance so that the stakeholders shall be able to help in strategizing and strengthening the needs for adequate responses for the victims, and give a chance to the citizens for rehabilitation and reconciliation, the only pathway towards a sustainable development and a bright future of Democratic Republic of Congo.

May peace regain in DR, sexually abused little girls tears get dried, no more sorrow and cries for sex slaves in DRC, no more human butchery and carnivore in a land of eternal spring and multiple opportunities.