Violence against women in the republic of congo: policy memorandum
Violence against women in the republic of congo: policy memorandum
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The reasons for continued conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are complex. However the key cause for strife in the resource rich state is its mineral wealth. This has been the source of misery in the country even in the era of colonialism, and increased alarmingly after its independence in 1960. The political agendas of different leaders in the country as well as in countries with a common boundary have exacerbated this race for resources. (Shah, 2003). The involvement of seven neighboring states and numerous international corporations has provided the context of a global war in DRC. With its rich resources, it has been the centre stage of coups and counter coups as many outside nations have been continuously exploiting it. Its heads of state have invariably turned out to be excessively corrupt and malleable to outside interests. (HRW, 2002).
The involvement of neighboring Rwanda, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Burundi has complicated the conflict, each party with its own vested interests with a shifting alliance perpetuating continuous violence. (Shah, 2003). The sanctuary to Hutu interahamwe militia which is alleged to have massacred 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, underlines the external dimension of the conflict. The main forms of violence include rape, attacks against civilians, looting, pillaging, extortion and killings. The conflict is provided an ethnic dimension which adds to the continuing threat to safety of women in particular who are seen as objects of hatred for easy exploitation. (Shah, 2003). The presence of peace keeping force, UN interventions and political arrangements from time to time has not had much impact and the simmering conflict continues especially in Ituri on the Ugandan border. (Itano, 2005).
The main victims of the conflict have been women and children as well as the elderly. Some 3.3 million are reported to have died since August 1998 and 2.25 million were rendered homeless. (Shah, 2003). The Human Rights Watch has thus called violence against women in Congo as a, “war within the war”. (HRW, 2002).
Statement of the Problem
The problem relates to continued susceptibility and subjection of women to violence in Congo. Women have become a victim of the larger conflict which has subsumed the nation. Their intrinsic vulnerability makes them perfect targets for exploitation in a region where domestic and international law has not been implemented despite continuous promulgation over the years. Thus rape and violence against women has become a weapon of war in the Republic of Congo. (HRW, 2002). The forms of violence against women in Congo are varied. The incidents include sexual abuse, prostitution and recruitment for gender exploitation. A report by Society for Threatened Peoples to the UN highlights that the vulnerability of violence against women increases with displacement of the population particularly as woman are separated from their husbands, parents and brothers. The inhuman nature of violence which includes gang rapes, rapes in front of children and forced incest is also common.
These incidents create a stigma, the psycho social impact of which is not easy to recede. A report by the International Rescue Committee has estimated that the crisis in Congo is the worst humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War and is considered even deadlier than others in Bosnia, Kosovo or Darfur as well as natural disasters as the tsunami. (Brennan. Husarska, 2006). Society for Threatened Peoples outlines the qualitative dimension reiterating the observations of the Human Rights Watch when it states that rape is used as a weapon of war in Democratic Republic of Congo. (Report, 2003).
The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) has provided a very dismal picture of the state of violence against women with over 25,000 cases of sexual violence ever year in North Kivu alone. The variety of violence perpetrated against women is also a matter of great concern. (Violence, 2006). It includes rape, sexual molestation, deliberate infection of HIV/AIDS, impregnation, genital damage, abortion all of which impact women as individuals. At the collective level domestic violence, trafficking and forcing women into prostitution is common. (Violence, 2006).
As a weapon of war, in Congo it is evident that rape has been effective in coercing communities who are vulnerable to sexual abuse of women in a dehumanizing manner. (Itano, 2005). Rape of women is used to force communities into submission especially in case they are seen to support opposing groups and factions. Ethnic hatred and involvement of a large number of neighboring states in Congo enlarges the scope of such reprehensible violence against women. The gravity of the problem will be evident from the fact that the series of conflicts in DRC over the years has led to a complete break down of accountability even amongst the armed forces and the police. Other issues relate to poverty as well as the splitting of families which results in exploitation of women as well as wide spread prostitution. (Dahrendorf, 2005).
There are attendant issues which emanate from violence against women which are equally alarming. One such concern is the danger of subjecting a large number of women to AIDS. The correlation of violence against women and AIDS has been highlighted in a report by the Global AIDS Alliance at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto entitled, “Zero Tolerance”, which says, “Comparatively little attention is being paid to the urgent need to scale up programs that address violence against women and children”, which support the spread of AIDS. (Capua, 2006). The magnitude of the problem is particularly grave in Africa where there are reports of over 50 % children experiencing sexual or physical violence at school stage. This renders them increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and adds to the attendant problems arising from prevalence of violence in Congo’s wars. (Capua, 2006).
The government of Congo is party to conventions which are drawn for the respect of women’s rights such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and of its Optional Protocols. (Mossi.Duarte, 2006). There are a large number of conventions such as the UN Declaration against Violence against Women 1993, (DEVAW), Platform for Action from the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which are also constitutionally accepted in DRC. Ordinarily these conventions should be sufficient to ensure that women’s rights against exploitation are fully protected. However their reach in areas affected by conflict in Congo is extremely limited. (Violence, 2006). While the country is constitutionally a monist state which indicates that international law applies over domestic law, in practice this has not been effectively implemented. (Mossi.Duarte, 2006). There is thus a need to ensure that statutes are not only accepted by nation states but are also effectively implemented. In conflicts with a large number of diverse interests as in Congo, the international obligations of external states should be applicable while they are operating in the DRC including in a covert manner.
Discussion of Policies
Conventions such as the DEVAW are the key preventive instruments of the UN to avert violence against women. It has defined violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” (Violence, 2006). Such acts can occur within the family, the community and could be those that are perpetrated as well as condoned by the state. This definition is wide ranging and would provide effective checks to prevent abuse in case it is implemented in letter and spirit.
The provisions of DEVAW have been most recently reiterated in UN reports and resolutions such as the Resolution 1674 of 28 April 2006, which has specifically condemned violence related to gender and sexual abuse. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, implementation of the DEVAW has always been very poor. Since 1998 it is estimated that thousands of women have been raped, mutilated sexually and even allegations of cannibalism have being heard where pigmy women were subjected to this deplorable practice in 2003. Such large scale violence spells of gender genocide. (Violence, 2006). What is more alarming is that trafficking of women and children has been noticed even by personnel of the state such as the military and police. (Violence, 2006).
UN strategies to prevent violence against women have also included measures such as raising awareness of gender violence while planning and implementing peace operations, enhancing resources for providing information of abuses locally, calling attention of parties to the conflict to adhere to international laws to prevent abuses, prevent amnesty to people indulging in gender based crimes, apply international legal frame work and ensure that the tribunals established ensure fair and just hearings of cases related to gender abuse. (Violence, 2006). While these provisions are comprehensive and include all possible measures to ensure safety of women, there are major limitations in implementation which need consideration. It is apparent that parties to the conflict while accepting these human and civil statutes are not actively implementing their provisions. There are some organizations and communities such as the Hutu interahamwe who operate beyond the rules of civil society and thus holding them to accountability is not practicable. (Shah, 2003).
The position of the UN weakens in the face of allegations in 2004 that troops involved in the United Nations Peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUC) had indulged in sexual exploitation and violence against women. (Dahrendorf, 2005). Apparently the permissive atmosphere prevalent in the country has affected even those elements which are attuned to norms of a modern society.
The problem in DRC is also related to lack of coordination of the large number of government agencies, donors and civil society volunteers involved in the overall effort of preventing sexual violence. This lack of a strategic unity amongst the plethora of agencies has resulted in the failure to gain fully from the extensive resources deployed in the country. (Dahrendorf, 2005)
The UN has been proactive in resolution of wars and conflict throughout its long history. However it has not succeeded in ensuring that violence against women, the, “war within war”, is addressed on priority with the attention it deserves. UN and other world bodies need to vehemently condemn the use of violence against women by denoting it as a form of war in Democratic Republic of Congo. (Report, 2003). This censure cannot remain vocal but has to be followed up with sanctions against states as well as multi nationals which due to their warped policies are adding fuel to the conflict.
Truth commissions and investigation committees to check proliferation have proved useful. However the principal recommendation relates to the speed and alacrity with which these should be constituted on the first signs of trouble erupting and time measured responses that need to be obtained to ensure that their efforts bear immediate fruit in bringing about visible change in the situation. Bringing the perpetrators of violence to speedy justice is also important for it would dissuade others from the path of violence. (Report, 2003). The need for a quick yet comprehensive recording of crime is highlighted to avoid what is known as the historical gap. (Violence, 2006). Training in sensitivity towards gender violence to people operating in the judicial system also needs to be considered. (Congo Women, Nd)
There are a number of interlinked problems related to violence that plague women in Congo. For instance rape is seen to lead to HIV/AIDS in most cases. (Capua, 2006). With over 50 percent of women undergoing forced sexual experience in school, the issue assumes epidemic proportions. By establishing effective interlink between violence reduction and AIDS reduction programmes, a synergy can be created for mutual benefit.
The task of coordination of the plethora of agencies operating in the country could be undertaken by having a central coordination body nominated which could canalize the work into effective and measure able results holistically to benefit a larger group of vulnerable women. This will enable efficient utilization of the extensive networks that exist on ground.
Commitment of the neighboring nations such as Zimbabwe and Angola and the African Union where reasonably stable governments operate should also be explored. Awareness and education of the civil populace as well as uniformed troops in the country including the UN needs to be emphasized. (HRW, 2002). Amnesty International has also laid emphasis on issue of clear instructions to troops and providing information of health and AIDS to prevent proliferation of gender violence. (Congo Women, Nd). Thus it is through such wide ranging measures in a large number of areas such as international law and convention, regional and national awareness, health consciousness and coordination between agencies of civil society and the government that violence against women in DRC can be controlled.
1. Brennan, Richard. Husarska, Anna. 2006. Inside Congo, An Unspeakable Toll. http://www.theirc.org/news/latest/inside-congo-an-unspeakable.html. (07 November 2006)
2. Capua, Joe De. 2006. AIDS Worsens Violence Against Women. http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2006-08/2006-08-18-voa55.cfm?CFID=15565966&CFTOKEN=21343390. (07 November 2006)
3. Congo Women. Nd (No Date). Stop violence against women
Democratic Republic of the Congo – one woman’s struggle for justice. http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR620012004?open&of=ENG-COD. (07 November 2006)
4. Dahrendorf, Nicola. 2005. Mirror images in the Congo: sexual violence and conflict. http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article.jsp?id=3&debateId=136&articleId=2964. (07 November 2006)
5. HRW. 2002. The War Within The War. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/drc/Congo0602.pdf. (07 November 2006)
6. Itano, Nicole. 2005. Sex-Assault Continues Unchecked In Congo. http://www.feminist.com/news/vaw42.html. (07 November 2006)
7. Mossi, Marie. Duarte, Mariana. 2006. Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). http://www.omct.org/pdf/vaw/2006/CEDAW_36th/cedaw36_drc_en.pdf. (07 November 2006).
8. Report. 2003. Written statement* submitted by Society for Threatened Peoples, a non-governmental organization in general consultative status. Society for Threatened Peoples. http://www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf/0/d8d411be1fe73d58c1256cfe0052de19?Opendocument. (07 November 2006)
9. Shah, Anup. 2003. The Democratic Republic of Congo. http://www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/Africa/DRC.asp. (07 November 2006).
10. Violence, 2006. Women, War, Peace and Violence Against Women. http://www.womenwarpeace.org/issues/violence/violence.htm. (07 November 2006)