Sexual violence in eastern DR Congo - signs of change?

Patients sit on November 12, 2009 at Panzi hospital in Bukavu, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) DR Congo has been called the rape capital of the world

During a fairly frenetic trip to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo last week I spent a couple of hours at the Heal Africa centre in Goma, one of several institutions in the region where victims of sexual violence are treated.

The compound was crowded. There was a lot of building work going on and the existing wards looked full.

I didn't manage to gather enough information to write a coherent report about the broader situation regarding rape in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo - it's been a devastating problem for many years - but I wanted to share one observation from a doctor at Heal Africa, in the hope that some of you can add to it or put it in better context.

First some bad news. Doctor Bienvenue Kayumba Kayanga, who is in charge of the treatment of rape victims, said that the number of women arriving at the clinic has not shown any signs of changing in recent months.

"The violence continues," he said.

"Over the past week we've seen girls as young as five and two years old," he added.

But something significant does appear to have changed in the nature of the attacks.

"Out of the 46 cases we've seen here so far this month, only two say they were raped by soldiers," said Dr Kayanga, confirming that this had become the norm.

He said almost all the women and children now visiting the clinic had been attacked by relatives or neighbours.

It seems, on the face of it, to be a significant shift from past years, when civilians in the region were ruthlessly targeted by a variety of armed groups.

Brutalised society?

Incidents of mass rape by soldiers do continue to be reported.


Mr Bienvenue had no easy explanation for the development, but he did not believe it was limited to his clinic. We discussed various possibilities.

- Could the presence of mobile courts, which have prosecuted a number of soldiers for rape, be acting as a deterrent?

- Is the security situation in general showing some signs of improvement?

- Was domestic violence as extensive before, but women did not tend to come forward?

- How far has society been brutalised by the conflict, and the sexual violence that accompanied so much of it?

- Is the perceived change seen at Heal Africa a statistical "blip," or distortion of the reality in the countryside?

After meeting the doctor, I spoke with a 15-year-old girl who had just arrived that morning from the countryside.

She said she had just been raped and beaten by two men in a field.

She didn't know if they were soldiers or not - they wore civilian clothes, but that doesn't mean much.

She spoke fast and at length - encouraged by a counsellor who said it was good for her to speak about her ordeal.

The girl said she did not expect any justice, and added that when she returned home after the rape and told her family what had happened, she was badly beaten and thrown out of the house by her relatives.

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Add your comment...In rural areas of South Kivu rape by soldiers and militias continues unabated. 296 women were raped by by army deserters in the villages of Nakiele, Abala and Kanguli in June, and the victims still await justice. The officer in charge has since been reintegrated into the army and promoted!MONUSCO still has not published the promised enquiry report. Is there a cover-up underway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    it is discouraging to hear, you and a professional physician term transition from gang rape to family, or marital rape as an improvement. the mobile court prosecuting soldiers , should also be incorporated to deal with relatives who are accused of rape.there is also greater need for the country to be stabilized, presence of rule of law would help curb rapists

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Violence decreases with the increase in the rule of law, but there is no rule of law in the Congo, and in many nations - there is merely the strong grabbing the cheese and making sure no-one else is doing so. The tragedy is that aid can increase this liability as the governments have no incentive to act if they know the foreign agencies will feel obligated to deal with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    In societies with strong rule of law psychopaths are at a disadvantage & are removed from society & are therefore unable to continue their line but in lawless societies they thrive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    It is difficult to know if these men act the way they do because they have been brutalised or if it was always in their nature. Psychopaths are nature’s way of trying out an alternative brain structure & research shows that it is hereditary, now it may be that psychopaths have certain Darwinian advantages & over time replace non-psychopaths in the population.


Comments 5 of 12



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