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The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Human Rights Watch defines sexual violence as “an act of a sexual nature by force, or by threat of force or coercion,” and rape as “a form of sexual violence during which the body of a person is invaded, resulting in penetration, however slight, of any part of the body of the victim, with a sexual organ, or of the anal or genital opening of the victim with any object or other part of the body.”[1] In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the prevalence and intensity of rape and other forms of sexual violence has been described as the worst in the world.[2]


Since 1996, sexual violence as described above has been used to intimidate, humiliate, and torture hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[3] Rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo has frequently been described as a "weapon of war," and the United Nations officially declared rape a weapon of war in 2008.[4] War Rape makes a particularly effective weapon in genocide because not only does it destroy its physical victims, but entire communities as well.[5]

Today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly the eastern region of the country, is known as the rape capital of the world.[6]

Rape is simply a fact of life in the DRC. As Noel Rwabirinba, a sixteen year old who had been a militiaman for two years said, “If we see girls, it’s our right…we can violate them”[7] This casual statement reflects a generally callous attitude towards the female sex as well as the normalization of rape in the DRC.

Rape Statistics

In October 2004 the human rights group Amnesty International said that 40,000 cases of rape had been reported over the previous six years, the majority occurring in South Kivu. This is an incomplete count, as the humanitarian and international organizations compiling the figures do not have access to much of the conflict area; only women who have reported for treatment are included. It is estimated that there are as many as 200,000 surviving rape victims living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today.[8][9]

Tens of thousands of women and girls in the DRC have become victims of sexual violence over the past fifteen years. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a United Nations agency specializing in sexual violence in the DRC has reported that 15,996 new instances of sexual violence were recorded across the nation in 2008. There were 4,820 new cases in Northern Kivu alone. UNFPA also reported that over 65% of victims during that time were children. The majority of this percentage was adolescent girls and roughly 10% of child victims are said to be under 10 years old.[10] Again, because the majority of rapes are not reported due to victims' shame and fear of social repercussions, these statistics should be taken as the bare minimum.

Medical Ramifications

The medical repercussions of the sexual assault in the DRC vary from severed and broken limbs, burned flesh, fistulas, STI's, pregnancy, and urinary incontinence to death.[11] Adequate medical care for these injuries is very hard to come by, and many survivors remain ill or disfigured for the rest of their lives.[12] These are all more severe the younger the victim is. Young girls who are not fully developed are more likely to suffer from obstructed birth, which can lead to fistulas or even death. On a young girl, a pelvis “[hasn’t] yet grown large enough to accommodate the baby’s head, a common occurrence with young teenagers…[these girls end] up in obstructed birth, with the baby stuck inside [their] birth passage[s]…[often, they can’t] walk or stand, a consequence of nerve damage that is a frequent by-product of fistulae.”[13]

Psychological and Social Ramifications

There are also many psychological and social consequences to being the victim of sexual violence. Victims often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and suicide. This can be particularly severe in cases in which men have been forced at gunpoint to sexually assault their daughters, sisters, or mothers.[14]

The most common social consequence for victims of sexual violence is isolation from their families and communities.[15] The most extreme versions of this stigmatization can lead to "honor killings" in which the victim of sexual violence is murdered by her family or community due to the belief that she has brought them shame and dishonor.[16]

Young women and girls who are cast outside of their homes, or leave due to shame will most likely become even more vulnerable to further abuse.[17]


According to Human Rights Watch, while many of the perpetrators of sexual violence are Militia groups, some of whom have been known to kidnap women and girls and use them as sex slaves,[18] the Congolese army, Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), is the "single largest group of perpetrators."[19] In 2007, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reported that 54% of all recorded sexual violence cases in the first 6 months of that year were committed by FARDC soldiers. Some commanders have been purported to overlook sexual violence perpetrated by those under their command.[20]

In June 2010, UK aid group Oxfam reported a dramatic increase in the number of rapes occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Contrary to MONUSCO's 2007 report, The study found that 38% of rapes were committed by civilians in 2008. Rapes by civilians are increasing, demonstrating that sexual violence is becoming even more widespread throughout the country. This is a particularly dramatic rise compared to the number of civilian-perpetrated rapes in 2004, which was less than 1%.[21][22] Researchers from Harvard discovered that rapes committed by civilians had increased seventeenfold.[23] Consistent with these studies is a statement from Dr. Margaret Agama, the DRC's United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative:

"Initially, rape was used as a tool of war by all the belligerent forces involved in the country’s recent conflicts, but now sexual violence is unfortunately not only perpetrated by armed factions but also by ordinary people occupying positions of authority, neighbours, friends and family members.”

Victim Testimonies

Rapes have often been performed through the use of foreign objects such as sticks, knives, and even rifles. There have also been cases in which pistols are inserted into a victim's vagina, and fired. These crimes have been inflicted on girls as young as 3 years old.[24]

In a 2008 V-Day and UNICEF global campaign, “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to Women and Girls in DRC,” 12 women and 2 girls recounted their sexual abuse before an audience of government and UN officials as well as other international delegates and civil society members. One of the women, Lumo Furaha, testified:

"Over 50 armed men took me and another woman to the bush where they raped us over and over again. After, they pulled us like goats to the main road where they left us abandoned."[25]

Another woman, 50 year old Zamuda, described her attack:

"The men did it with objects, it wasn’t from any physical desire. The only answer I have is that they wanted to destroy me; destroy my body and kill my spirit."[26]

Jullienne Chakupewa, a rape counselor in Goma, a city on the DRC's eastern border with Rwanda had a similar sentiment when being interviewed by reporter Nicholas Kristof:

All militias here rape women, to show their strength and to show your weakness.”[27]

Another speaker at the 2008 V-Day and UNICEF event described her assault to the audience:

"They kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.”[28]

Claudine Mwabachizi, another survivor at the event described her experience of being kidnapped by bandits, tied to a tree in the forest and gang-raped. Later, she was forced to watch as her rapist disemboweled a pregnant woman in front of her.[29]

Connection to the Rwandan Genocide

After the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, many génocidaires fled across Rwanda's western border into the DRC in hopes of escaping censure. Hutu extremist militias were reformed across the border, particularly in Kivu, the DRC's easternmost city, bringing more crime and violence to the DRC. The self-titled "liberation force," Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), is one example of a Rwandan rebel group compiled of former génocidaires that has been especially destructive in Kivu. In 2009, the FDLR amassed a particularly brutal attack on Northern and Southern Kivu, killing, displacing, and raping civilians, and even burning entire villages down to the ground.[30]

An October 2007 New York Times article reported on the increasing numbers of rapes occurring in the Eastern Congo near Rwanda:

Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country.[31]

The article also reported on the conclusions of Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu:

Instead, she said, the epidemic of rapes seems to have started in the mid-1990s. That coincides with the waves of Hutu militiamen who escaped into Congo’s forests after exterminating 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during Rwanda’s genocide 13 years ago. Mr. Holmes said that while government troops might have raped thousands of women, the most vicious attacks had been carried out by Hutu militias.[31]

A New York Times article written a year later reported that U.N officials have stated that the most horrific attacks were committed by Rwandan génocidaires, whose attacks "have left thousands of women with their insides destroyed."[32]

Preventative Efforts

Increasing awareness regarding the problem of sexual violence in the DRC has led to both national and international efforts to prevent the continuation of the atrocities taking place.

In 2006, the Congolese government made some headway by passing a law criminalizing “insertion of an object into a woman’s vagina, sexual mutilation, and sexual slavery” as well as defining “any sexual relation with a minor as statutory rape.”[33] The Congolese government's department, The Ministry of Gender, Family Affairs and Children, is dedicated to dealing with sexual violence within the nation.[34]

In September of 2009, following her visit the the DRC, U.S Secretary of State Hilary Clinton oversaw the adoption of the U.N Security Council Resolution 1888, which details specific efforts that must be taken to protect women from sexual violence in war-stricken regions, and measures taken to bring perpetrators to justice.[35] Clinton has also urged the Congolese government to personally investigate members of FARDC who have committed crimes of sexual violence, and FARDC generals have declared that they will set up new military tribunals to prosecute soldiers accused of sexual violence.[36] [37] Additionally, she has supported a $17 million plan to combat the sexual violence in the DRC.[38]

In addition, Eve Ensler's nongovernmental organization, V-Day, has not only been crucial in the growing awareness regarding sexual violence in the DRC, but has also entered into a project with UNICEF and the Panzi Foundation to build The City of Joy, a special facility in Bukavu for survivors of sexual violence in the DRC. The center, which can host up to 180 women a year, has resources such as sexual education courses, self-defense classes, and group therapy, as well as academic classes and courses in the arts.[39]

See also


  1. [cite web|url=]
  2. McCrummen, Stephanie (2007-09-09). "Prevalence of Rape in E. Congo Described as Worst in World". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
  3. [1]
  4. Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
  6. "Half the Sky" Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, p. 84. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
  7. "Half the Sky" Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, p. 86. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
  8. Cochrane, Kira (2008-05-09). "The victims' witness". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
  9. Kort, Michelle. "A Conversation with Eve Ensler: Femicide in the Congo". Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
  13. Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, p. 94. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
  21. DR Congo gang rape crisis 'spreading', new study suggests
  22. Congo report shows rape is widespread
  23. Al Jazeera - Rapes 'surge' in DR Congo
  24. Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, p.84. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
  27. Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, p.84. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Gettleman, Jeffrey (2007-10-07). "Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-17.

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