End sexual violence in conflict: Change will come from the Congolese

By Jude Wanga

This week sees the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit–  a four-day event, organised by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. The summit is co-chaired by William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Many from the international establishment – governments, militaries and judiciaries from around the world will have representatives at the summit, as well as field experts. There’s also a three-day Fringe event open to members of the public and media, with exhibitions, discussions and performances from various Non Governmental Organisations and charities.

The Summit’s aim is to identify specific actions by the international community in four areas where greater progress is essential regarding sexual violence in conflict. Those four areas are improving investigations, providing more support and reparation for all survivors of sexual violence, ensuring a response to gender-based violence and promoting gender equality as an integral part of all reform, and improving international strategic coordination.

It’s been five years since I filmed my BBC3 documentary, The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women. In it, I looked at the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC]. Since then, there has been a lot of change. Indeed, that the UK is hosting a summit on sexual violence in conflict shows the progress that’s been made in awakening the international community to a horrific humanitarian crisis. Whilst financial and security obstacles have kept me from returning to DRC since, I have continued to speak out on the atrocities occurring there, as I promised the incredible women who I met whilst filming. I was moved to see a substantial number of the global Congolese diaspora represented in all aspects of the Fringe event of this week’s summit – amongst the public, in the displays and stalls, through the performances and holding discussions on the situation in Congo. More heart warming was seeing how packed all these discussions were, with people interested or looking to learn more about the situation. In 2010, it was not always so.

The cause of sexual violence in Congo has always been a complex question to answer. It is this complexity which has often caused people to underestimate the scale of the issue, leading to certain aspects being more highlighted than others. It has become further complicated as the atrocities, initially committed by external troops in Congo, are now being committed by Congolese troops themselves. At the root of it all is the same issue – a lack of accountability, a system of impunity, and gender inequality.

At the Fringe I was able to speak to Fiona Lloyd-Davies, director of my documentary, who was attending the premiere of her new film Seeds of Hope – a documentary filmed over three years chronicling the work and story of the inspirational Masika Katsuva.

Katsuva, who I met in 2009 whilst filming, runs a refuge for women who are survivors of rape. Whilst watching Seeds of Hope, I was moved to tears at the progress Katsuva’s refuge has made since I last saw her. I was saddened however, to see the number of women relying on her refuge, a sign that whilst her awe-inspiring work empowering these women was producing results, that the danger to these women had not abated. In fact, as we learn in the documentary, Katsuva was raped again in 2012 following the attack in Minova, a period which saw her receive 130 new cases, the youngest of which was 11 years old.

During the question and answer session after the film, which is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Lloyd-Davies agreed that there had been a sea change of opinion and focus on the issue, a view supported by Dr. Denis Mukwege, the two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of Panzi Hospital.

Dr Mukwege also believed that there had been positive change, but stressed the still precarious nature of the situation. He spoke of how only a week ago, 35 people were massacred in a church in the Bukavu region. Both Dr. Mukwege and Lloyd-Davies stressed that in order for further progress, a priority had to be made for the fighting in Congo to stop.

I asked Dr. Mukwege about what hope for the future in Congo, tackling this crisis. “There will be no lasting peace without justice,” he told me.  “Integrating criminals and militia into the [Congolese] army is unsustainable. We need to stop the culture of impunity until all who played a role in the atrocities are accountable”

Dr Mukwege also believes that the Congolese people themselves have the power to make change, both the global diaspora and the citizens. He believes that substantial change and evolution will “not come from the UN, or Special Envoy, but will come from the Congolese people”. This is a view shared by many of the Congolese NGOs and also by Lloyd-Davies.

Lloyd-Davies stressed it was important to view the women in her films, not only as victims, but survivors – three dimensional people with hopes as well as fears. These women were rebuilding their lives. She believes a lot of the solutions to Congo are in Congo itself and that perhaps instead of constantly looking to external solutions, we should aim to better support the internal solutions already in existence. As she so eloquently put it, “there are many more women like Masika.”

Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, hosting the question and answer session for Seeds of Hope, spoke of a Congolese Justice system “on its knees” and of a need for better judiciary mechanisms. This view is shared by many Congolese activists and NGOs who stress for Congo to adopt a specialised mixed court for cases of sexual violence. A mixed court would see the Congolese Judiciary supported by international community to improve its efficacy. In the recent trial where thirty-nine soldiers were being prosecuted, only two of them were found guilty of rape. Senior command are consistently evading accountability and justice.

All of us, however, are hopeful that real lasting change can come to Congo. There are many positives to be taken from the last five years, such as the Minova trials, the capture of Bosco Ntaganda who is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court, and this week’s Summit. It is up to the international community to continue to support the Congolese people by ensuring the discussions and decisions made at this summit will be followed up and implemented. The future of Congo depends on it.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon 


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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5 thoughts on “End sexual violence in conflict: Change will come from the Congolese

  1. KH

    I agree absolutely with the laudable aim of this campaign and summit. However, I have grave misgivings about its effectiveness or moreover the will of any Western politicians or big businesses at the root of the troubles in DRC and across much of the world. All I see is a PR campaign by governments and businesses to sanitise the public’s perception of the atrocities they fund in order to continue stealing more natural resources and increase their presence in conflict countries.

    The fact that the summit took place in the same exhibition centre that William Hague and his hypocritical cohorts welcome arms dealers to buy weapons that they know are used to suppress democratic descent, and/or are forwarded to despots that support our interests against the wellbeing of their citizens. Give a rapist a gun and what’s the first thought he’ll have? Our government knows it arms rapists, they even, through a lack of care for the after effects, bombed prisons in Iraq releasing countless rapists who will no doubt have joined the police and army.

    William Hague persuaded the government to supply the Syrian rebels with military equipment and the US government have been directly supplying them with weapons to destabilise the middle east plunging into an abyss where rape and other atrocities are becoming commonplace and almost impossible to stop. All so we can steal oil, instead of paying a fair price for it like the Chinese and Russians.

    Congolese men have been brutalised by never ending wars funded by the west, that benefit us in the west. And with that brutalisation comes the worst of human behaviour. King Leopold killed 10 million Congolese, the Belgians killed their elected leader Lumumba, the US and other European countries are funding murderers and rapists to defend their ill-gotten interests.

    Until Angelina Jolie stands up and lambasts Hague on stage, this summit will be about as effective as telling burglars not to steal wedding rings. It will however ease our consciouses as we surf facebook on our computers made possible by blood soaked congolese minerals – while we reinforce our view of non-western men as beasts and us as western civilisers trying to light their dingy despicable lives. The same thinking behind the transatlantic slave trade – seems some things never change, we just dress them up differently.

    Good luck with the fight, but this one needs to be pulled up by it’s very western roots or we’re doing little more than trimming the weeds sucking life from the flowers of the Congo..

  2. Derrington

    Maybe if we began to solve rape and gender psychopathy in male civilians, then it would effect rape being used so often in war. Males without empathy are dangerous whether they have a gun or not.

    1. KH

      I agree Derrington, I just think those men are an even greater danger with a gun and a total breakdown of law and order – which is when they realise their most abhorrent potential.

      Many overseas charities working with domestic and sexual violence have complained that they cannot get international funding to work specifically with men, as funds are usually only made available for non gender-specific charity work or to those working specifically with women or children. In this way, charities are not tackling the cause, they’re merely dealing with the consequences.

      A reeducation of boys/men, worldwide is needed as sexual abuse is usually a one to many situation, with one man ruining the lives of many women.

  3. Lil Z

    ‘Congolese men have been brutalised by never ending wars funded by the west, that benefit us in the west. And with that brutalisation comes the worst of human behaviour.’

    Correction: Congolese men who rape and mutilate women and children are demonstrating the worst of male behaviour, not human behaviour. You know who has been brutalised the worst in the Congo, by both foreign and Congolese men? Congolese women. Yet they do not respond by inflicting psychopathic violence on other adults and children. Instead, they pick themselves up, try to heal and do the best they can to rebuild their communities and families, in the face of overwhelming and unrelenting male violence.

    Instead of calling male violence ‘human behaviour’, we should be looking at why men and women respond so differently to social and psychic stress – why men commit violence with such enthusiasm, and women (in spite of the endless brutalities inflicted on them) do not. This pattern is observable everywhere across the world, and in every conflict, not just the Congo.

    Your point about the West’s role in instigating and sustaining wars in the region is undeniably true; your efforts to conflate male violence with ‘human behaviour’ is sophistry intended to silence a gendered analysis of what is overwhelmingly a gendered problem.

  4. KH

    Lil Z, I have no argument whatsoever with rape being dealt with in terms of male aggressors and female victims and I apologise if my post gave a different impression – something for me to consider when commenting in future posts. However, I do take exception to the blanket oversimplification of male and female responses to stress.

    The willingness to commit violent acts is often influenced by the perpetrators relative strength, power and prospects of what they unpleasantly see as a positive outcome for themselves. I have argued with men who I have known to be violent to their partners and as angry as I have made them they have not been violent to me because things might not end so favourably for them. However, up and down the country many ordinary women hit their children when they are annoyed, and many of my friends’ mothers hit them while their fathers did not. Mothers can also be equally cruel psychologically to their children resulting in some extremely damaged adults. And the women that do this do it because they are bigger and stronger than their children and are in a position of power so can force their will and act with impunity. I have Congolese friends, and unfortunately, Congolese women do often pass the effects of the brutality they have suffered to their children as many will tell you how harsh physical chastisement and overly harsh discipline administered by mothers is pretty routine.

    If you want to say that men have a greater propensity to violent behaviour, I’m not going to argue. Stopping male violence is a priority. However, to categorise the dispensing of violent and psychological abuse as solely male behaviour does the debate a disservice. I’m not sticking up for men here – just reasoned and reasonable debate.

    The greatest achievement of violent men would be to drive a wedge of mistrust between all good men and women leaving women unable to distinguish between a good and a bad man, and causing good men to believe that all women hate men, consequently giving abusive men the kind of warped reasoning they require to attempt to ‘excuse’ their actions.


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