Sunday, December 30, 2007

Congo Rape Victims Seek For Justice - by Asha Castleberry

The epidemic of rape and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. This year, thousands of women have been raped and sexually assaulted. Rape has been used as a weapon of war in the civil war between North and South Kivo in Eastern Congo. Amnesty International reported that 20 armed groups, government soldiers from DRC and Rwanda, police officers, and civilians are the perpetrators involved in these attacks.

It is an everyday reality for a woman to be tortured and raped in front of families and friends. Some have been forced to eat feces or drink urine. Pregnant women have lost their babies from perpetrators that have cut open their stomachs. Above all, perpetrators have enjoyed forcing foreign objects, such as the barrel of a gun and sticks into the rape victims. This type of torture caused victims excruciating abdomen pain while sitting and jeopardized the possibility of ever having children. Some women suffered from internal permanent injuries, such as fistulas or rips in vaginal walls and the anal areas, which required extensive surgical treatment. Recently, an 80 year old woman died from permanent damages. She was gang raped by several militiamen. There were over 40,000 untreated rape victims that contracted the HIV virus.

According to the United Nations Patch News, a 28-year old rape victim said, "Every woman in the village leaves at night to sleep in the bushes because of the raping. They still loot but if they can't find us they can't rape us. Women in many villages dare not sleep in their own homes. Others are too afraid even to go to the outskirts of their communities to tend to crops because so many women have been seized in the fields, contributing to the rise in malnutrition and disease that has claimed so many lives. People live in fear so they live in the bush. They expose themselves to diseases: malaria, gastro-enteritis. It's cold at night. All of this claims lives.”
Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, claimed that women who want to bring charges of rape have little rights. "The investigation is never properly conducted and there are hardly any women magistrates or investigators. Women are treated so badly when they raise these issues and when they go through court proceedings."

Many women are fearful of turning to the country's courts for help. There is a widespread of lack of faith in the system where justice is available to the highest bidder. This is quite typical, and only 200 of the thousands of rape victims have dared to legally pursue their attackers. Another major problem is the lack of access to the legal system. There are courts in the North Kivu towns of Goma, Butembo and Beni, but most women are attacked in rural areas, miles from the nearest police station, court house or lawyer. Only two percent of the sexually violent victims have access to legal assistance. In the near future, the Human Rights Watch advocate plans to implement a new law on sexual violence which was passed by parliament in 2006. It was designed to speed up the prosecution of rape cases and impose stiffer penalties.

Young boys are rape victims as well. North Kivo reported 40 male rape victims.

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