DRC: Rape Survivors Call for an End to Sexual Violence
Bukavu/Goma, South/North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, 22 September, 2008 - On September 12th and 19th, in Goma and Bukavu respectively, for the first time in the Democratic Republic of Congo survivors of sexual violence publicly spoke out, breaking their silence. They did so as part of V-DAY and UNICEF’s global campaign: “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource: Power to Women and Girls in DRC”. In front of government and UN officials, international delegates and civil society members, twelve women and two girls told their stories of rape and its impact on their lives. They issued a call to the world to put an end to the sexual violence that has ravaged and shamed them and hundreds of thousands of other women and girls in the DRC.
The women have courageously spoken out because they “don’t want any child of the next generation to have to live through what they have lived through.” And, as one survivor stated “I know that I have come forward today at my own peril, some people may want to kill me because of this. But I am ready to make this sacrifice, to die if necessary, if this will help put an end to rape in the DRC and save other women from this ordeal.”
Since 1996, sexual violence in the eastern DRC has been used to torture and humiliate women and girls and destroy families. UNICEF and V-DAY estimate that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped since the conflict began in DRC. In addition to the severe psychological impact, sexual violence leaves many survivors with genital lesions, traumatic fistulae, severed and broken limbs, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and the survivors are regularly ostracized and abandoned by their families and communities.
Sexual violence in the eastern DRC continues at epidemic proportions with official UNFPA statistics indicating that in the two Kivu provinces alone, more than 3,500 women and girls have been raped in the first six months of 2008, which only reflect reported cases. The recent return to fighting in the past few weeks, particularly in North Kivu, is further heightening the risks of women and girls to being raped.
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. Luckily, we were found by some men and eventually I was taken to the Goma hospital where I have had nine surgeries, but yet to be fixed. Now, despite not having recovered I am hoping for a brighter future. I hope telling my story will help give me that brighter future.” Zamuda, 50, told her story: “.... I don’t understand, 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. I am speaking out because I don’t want any child of the next generation to have to live through what I have lived through.”
After hearing the women’s stories in Goma, the DRC Vice-Minister of Human Rights, Mr. Bazibuhe Nyamugabo Claude, stated “I would like to shake the hands of these courageous women. They have resolved to speak out and stop rape for everyone. There is a lot to do. I ask all to mobilize your intelligence, your finances, and your energy. The Republic that we want isn’t one where our women and girls are raped like this, where they feel they can not live.” With tears in his eyes, the South Kivu Governor, Louis Chirhimwami Muderhwa, asserted “We are all complicit in these attacks. They are happening here, around us. Every one of us needs to entirely devote ourselves to bring these atrocities to an end.”
The Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations in the DRC, Mr. Ross Mountain, remarked “It is very important that this global campaign was launched last year. Sexual violence in the DRC is one of the most important problems in the world. We have to all engage ourselves. We need a much larger support. We need actions a lot more targeted. The United Nations has recognized that sexual violence is a threat to peace and international security. All must put an end to the violence and support the DRC government to prioritize women and girls.”
Eve Ensler, founder of V-DAY and writer, made an impassioned plea: “These women coming forward have shown that survivors are refusing to wait any longer, that they want to speak for themselves, that they want to reclaim their dignity and power. May the courage of these women, who had the will to boldly break the silence, encourage thousands of others to come forward, to break their silence. May it fire a national and international movement of solidarity and passion and courage that is so strong that women take their rightful place as the honoured, the respected, the cherished, and the protected in Congolese society. May it bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
At the end of the events each survivor who spoke received a shawl embroidered with the inscription “I have survived! I can do anything!” and made a collective call to national and international authorities and the Congolese and international public to act with them to concretely and definitively end sexual violence in the DRC (see Annex for full text).
V-DAY and UNICEF advocate for an immediate cessation of hostilities, for all to ensure the protection and safety of women and girls, and remind all that sexual violence is classified as a war crime and crime against humanity.
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