In-depth: Our Bodies - Their Battle Ground: Gender-based Violence in Conflict Zones
DRC: Fighters commit atrocities against women and also men
Rape victims in Bukavu now learning new skills as seamstresses at the Action pour l'encadrement des Soeurs Dinah (AESDI), a protestant church centre set up to care for such women. Instructor in red dress, not a rape victim, standing
NAIROBI, 1 September 2004 (IRIN) - There is no shortage of armed groups in South Kivu region in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some are home grown, such as the local militias called the Mayi Mayi. Others are foreign born, like the former Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), who fled to the DRC after the regime that presided over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was toppled.
Some have been around for years, like the Interahamwe, militiamen from Rwanda's main ethnic group, the Hutu, who fled along with the FAR after they committed the bulk of the genocide against the minority Tutsi. Others are new, such as dissidents who broke away from the national army in late May, took over South Kivu's main town, Bukavu, for about a week in early June, and then withdrew.
All these groups, observers say, have committed similar acts of violence and rape.
"Most of these rapes were by the Interahamwe"
The German technical cooperation agency, GTZ, has been documenting sexual violence by combatants against civilians in South Kivu since 2002. Some of the acts were gruesome: women shot in their private parts; gun barrels rammed into victims' vaginas; families forced to look on as mothers and daughters were raped.
"Most of these rapes were by the Interahamwe, but some were by members of the national army," GTZ's Stanilas Bya Mungu said.
The army dissidents also carried out atrocities during their occupation of Bukavu, according to Bya Mungu. They would choose a neighbourhood and go from house to house, raping from one-year-old babies to women as old as 80, he said. The dissidents broke into medical distribution centers, stole Viagra that had been stored there, and distributed it to their comrades, he said. By 20 July, GTZ had documented 130 women raped in Bukavu during the occupation.
Photo: Olu Sarr/IRIN
|Children of raped women at a crèche called the Action pour l'encadrement des Soeurs Dinah (AESDI) in Bukavu, South Kivu Province
Combatants were brutal with women who resisted rape. "In some cases they dripped melting rubber into their vaginas and onto their breasts," Bya Mungu said. "Sometimes, after raping a woman they would spread her legs until they snapped like a chicken's."
In one report, combatants killed a man and raped his wife and daughter on the same spot. "The woman recounted how her husband's warm blood was seeping onto her as his Interahamwe killers raped her," Bya Mungu said.
In acts seemingly designed to belittle the men further, the Interahamwe reportedly beat men's penises with rifle butts while telling them they would never use their organs again.
Why the Interahamwe should turn against their Congolese "hosts" was unclear. Bya Mungu offered one explanation: the Interahamwe fought for the DRC's previous government against the Tutsis, but Kinshasa failed to help them regain power in Kigali, he said.
Another opinion offered by an observer was that the Interahamwe had worked previously with the Mayi-Mayi but were angered when the Mayi-Mayi agreed to join the new government that came to power in mid-2003. The Interahamwe reacted by fighting them and continuing their refusal to abide by a 1999 ceasefire agreement that called for their disarmament and repatriation.
Living with the consequences of the atrocities
In the meantime, many women are forced to live with the consequences of the atrocities they were subjected to. Some had their wombs destroyed. Others suffer from fistula, a medical condition whereby a tear is created between the anal cavity and the birth canal. One woman at a centre for rape victims in Bukavu had lost control of her bladder since her ordeal. The centre, called Action pour l'Encadrement des Soeurs Dihah, had 42 rape victims in July, including 11 who were abused repeatedly, according to its coordinator, London Pauline. Some of the girls had been rejected by their families. The youngest, 13 years old, was pregnant.
The centre also takes care of infants born out of rape. It had 53 children in July.
Initially Pauline had no support to care for her charges. Later, a Swedish missionary from the Pentecostal Church visited the centre and donated money, which she used to start a micro credit scheme for the girls and provide seeds and farming implements for those who came from rural areas. Some of the girls at the centre have returned to school. Others are making a living from petty trade.
The centre also provides legal aid to victims who can identify their attackers. "Some were raped by their neighbours," Pauline said.
Some of the girls are still traumatised by the events in Bukavu but the NGO World Vision said it would provide them with psychosocial care.
[See also DRC: Special report on war and peace in the Kivus