DRC: Rape survivors, V Day and UNICEF call upon authorities to address impunity
Kinshasa, DRC, 9 June 2009 - This last weekend, five women from various provinces of the country, all victims of sexual violence, took their campaign's message "Breaking the Silence” to the doorsteps of the highest decision-makers in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The event was organized by UNICEF and the international NGO V DAY under the patronage of Ms Olive Kabila, First Lady of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is part of a global campaign entitled “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resources. Freedom to Women and Girls in DRC”. The Minister for Human Rights represented the government.
The five survivors of sexual violence are all mothers aged between 40 and 60. They publicly spoke out about their ordeal and called for nation-wide mobilization in support of the “Stop au Viol” campaign.
In the presence of a packed audience made up of members of the diplomatic corps, Government Ministers, UN officials, Members of Parliament and of the Senate, international NGOs and civil society, the women told their horrific stories of rape and violence, and its impact on their lives.
They issued a call to the people of power and influence in the country to take concrete action beyond public declarations of goodwill and effectively end the sexual violence that has ravaged and humiliated thousands of women and girls in the DRC.
The women explained to the gathering that they have decided to speak out because, as one woman put it, "it is a cry on behalf of all women, those who have spoken out, and those still in hiding because of the stigmatization and the shame. …in my eyes, all those who tolerate sexual violence, turn a blind eye, refuse to denounce and condemn these barbaric acts – they are all as guilty as those who commit these crimes...."
Another survivor said "we have chosen to speak out so that we can help each other to get back to our families and our lives… I know now that there is a network of activists all over the country. I am now a member, but until you speak up you cannot be heard. The solidarity from these groups helps a lot with the healing.”
In her address to the gathering, UNICEF Representative in the DRC, Pierrette Vu Thi, deplored the widespread negative attitude and behavior towards the rights of girls and women. "This is a result of the degradation in social values. Impunity needs to be addressed as a priority. The State has an adequate judicial system at its disposal which it must put to use. That is one most efficient ways to deal with these crimes and human rights violations."
Eve Ensler, writer and founder of V DAY accompanied the women to present over 4,000 letters from all corners of the world to the President of the Republic of Congo. The letters expressed both support to the survivors of sexual violence as well as indignation against impunity.
In 2007, UNICEF and V DAY organized similar "Breaking the Silence" events with other survivors of sexual violence in Goma (North Kivu province) and in Bukavu (South Kivu province) in Eastern DRC where over a decade of war has ravaged the population. Saturday’s event was first to be held in the capital of the country, as part of the global campaign.
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