Written by Tanja Bergen, Annabel Wong, Sarina Rehal – Executive Directors of the Africa Canada Accountability Coalition
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) has been subject to demoralizing conflict since the end of Mobutu Sese Seko’s ruinous rule in 1997. Over the last 12 years, the conflict’s intensity has fluctuated but there is one defining characteristic that has remained constant: sexual violence deliberately used to isolate and devastate innocent women.
The intensity and degree of violence against women in the DR Congo was instrumental in the United Nation’s decision to declare rape as a weapon of war. Rape is used to humiliate and terrorize women, who flee their homes if armed groups are near so that they will not be raped. It is a tool of ethnic cleansing; diseases such as HIV/AIDS are deliberately spread so that women, their families, and communities suffer long after fighting ends. Worst of all, a culture of impunity exists for the rapists and a culture of shame for the victim; women are often raped in front of their husbands and abandoned afterward.
The sexual violence in the DR Congo is distinctive because of the calculated manner in which it is carried out. Doctors can identify the group responsible for an attack by the injuries on the victim – whether it is shotgun fired into the vagina on an angle so as to maim but not to kill, or a specific cut. This is not a ‘tribal African war,’ this is a war against women. Rebel groups, foreign armies, government soldiers, even United Nations peacekeepers have taken part in the brutalization of women. This war is the actualization of the violence to which women are vulnerable because of their sex and perceived expandability; it is an attack against half of the human race that all of humanity must resist together.
As Canadians, we must reject this continued outrage and inspire hope in the women of the DR Congo, that they will shed the role of the victim and regain their dignity. As a nation that supported the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which acknowledges the unique susceptibility of women in conflict and the need to protect them, we must encourage our government to act to protect the women of the DR Congo and to encourage their diplomatic partners to act similarly. As of November 6th, 2008, the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) contribution to the DR Congo was $23.4 million, decreased from $33 million in 2006/2007. This aid must increase to bolster established projects supporting victims of rape in the DR Congo. As one of the largest mining investors in a country with a resource-fuelled conflict, our companies must be held accountable to accusations of collaborating with belligerents. Women’s rights and dignity cannot be discounted as casualties of war.
Our government must act beyond the rhetoric to acknowledge our responsibilities to the DR Congo. The conflict is boiling over with complex factors and we are not in a position to distribute guilt, but the intentional violation of the spirits and bodies of Congolese women cannot be further accepted with impunity.