In many Western countries such as England and the USA, the issue of rape is downplayed. There is a distinct level of stigma surrounding the issue, which has subsequently led to it being, for the most part, swept under the rug. This oversight is heightened by the fact that, in the Western world, rape is predominantly carried out behind closed doors. We see this phenomenon reflected in studies which reveal that approximately two thirds of rape victims know their aggressor.
The overwhelming slew of sexual-related human rights violations which have ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since the outbreak of the Civil War over a decade ago is an equally downplayed issue – yet for a distinctly different reason.
The situation in the DRC is marginally different from that of many Western countries. Whilst it is undeniable that rape, no matter how prevalent or violent, is an atrocity and an affront to humanity, the rape crisis in the DRC takes it to unparalleled levels.
A COUNTRY RAVAGED BY CONFLICT
The DRC’s history is dominated by a series of armed conflicts. Most recently, the tireless war between Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups has led to numerous irreversible ramifications which now plague the nation. Fleeing from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, dangerous soldiers infiltrated the eastern regions of the country, bringing with them monstrous war tactics such as mass rape.
A WEAPON OF WAR
In 2008 the United Nations declared rape as a weapon of war. In the DRC, rape is certainly used as such. Rebel and military forces alike use the tactic in order to instil fear and thus gain control over entire civilian villages. The sheer “efficiency” of this particular war weapon only serves to fuel the soldiers, and thus mass rape, gang rape and child rape has become a part of everyday life for the women (and men) of the DRC.
Estimates dictate that one woman is raped every minute in the DRC. Not only are these mass rapes shocking in terms of their sheer number, but also in terms of the victims’ ages. Soldiers have admitted to raping girls as young as 5, and babies as young as 2. Women fall pregnant through rape and then their daughters are subjected to the same crimes perpetrated against their mothers. This endless cycle of unprecedented sexual violence is perceived by many to be justified.
Many soldiers are of the belief that raping women, in particular pre-pubescent girls, will provide them with strength, power and good fortune. In this way, they justify the barbaric acts by which they destroy lives. Some also blame their officers-in-command, whom they say either gave the order to rape innocent civilians, or idly stood by as their soldiers wreaked havoc upon entire communities.
Since it is so prevalent in the DRC, rape is no longer considered to be a human right violation, nor an unusual occurrence. As a result, soldiers are rendered more prone to commit such crimes and young girls are growing up in a country where their rape is imminent and, in fact, expected.
In reality, the DRC’S rape crisis is simply a catastrophic manifestation of a much larger backdrop – one which is inextricably linked with the mining and distribution of conflict minerals and hence one which touches our daily lives. Ultimately, it is vital that we remain mindful of basic human rights and refuse to allow violations of those rights to remain undetected, unreported and unresolved. The rape epidemic in the DRC cannot remain a distant barbarity in a far-off country. Instead, we must heed the words of Martin Luther King in our understanding of global human rights violations, and incorporate therein the idea that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
If you wish read a further article which tackles the issues at the root of this cause, click on the following link:
To watch a great documentary reporting on the issue, click on the following link: