Rape now war strategy in Congo, doctor says

December 1 2008

War, ethnic conflict and greed have turned the lush green jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into one of the most hellish places on Earth.

Lawlessness is rife, massacres are common, theft is systematic, all-pervasive and violent. But for Dr. Denis Mukwege, it is the daily horror of rape and sexual violence to women that are without precedence anywhere.

“The traditional battlefield has changed,” he says. “It is no longer war on the ground, but it is war on women’s bodies. It is a war that destroys women as human beings.”

“Rape and sexual violence are now used as a war strategy,” he says. “It is a tactic of war. It is not rape as understood by many parts of the world, as a violation of the rights of a human being. It is rape used as a weapon of mass destruction.”

The director and founder of the 250-bed Panzi General Referral Hospital in the eastern Congo town of Bukavu, Dr. Mukwege has devoted the last 14 years to treating women who suffer from the most brutal types of rape, sexual torture and mutilation.

“It is sexual terrorism that seeks to destroy the identity of the individuals and their communities,” he said. “Whole communities are raped. It is not merely a physical destruction but the psycho-social destruction of a whole community in which the women are humiliated.”

“They force sons to rape their mothers, fathers to rape their daughters, husbands to rape their wives in the presence of children. It’s aimed to destroy the social fabric of a family and a community.”

Since 1999, Dr. Mukwege’s hospital and its team of six surgeons have surgically reconstructed the bodies of women whose genitals and internal organs have been horribly disfigured in violent sexual attacks.

In the Congo’s brutal civil war, sexual assault victims are three times more common than gunshot casualties and five times more numerous than wounded soldiers.

Sexual violence has become a war within a war.

The Panzi Hospital treats 3,500 rape victims a year and it still can’t cope with the surge in shattered lives that follows each round of warfare in eastern Congo.

Earlier this week aid workers working in the DRC appeared before the UN Security Council in New York pleading with the United Nations to beef up its peacekeeping operations to do more to protect women and children from sexual violence and exploitation in Congo.

“Women and girls in the hundreds and thousands have been targets of opportunistic and brutal rape, while children are being targeted for recruitment as child soldiers,” said Sue Mbaya, the Africa policy director for World Vision. “There is a silent war being waged against women and children.”

“The words rape or sexual violence cannot fully translate the horror I see hundreds of thousands of women living through,” said Dr. Mukwege, who spoke recently at a special forum at the University of Toronto along with Stephen Lewis, the former UN Special envoy for AIDS/HIV in Africa.

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Students bring awareness to Congo

Republic of Congo launches national campaign against HIV/AIDS

BRAZZAVILLE

December 1 2008

The Republic of Congo is set to launch a national campaign against HIV/AIDS on Monday to add to the global momentum in fighting the deadly disease.

With a theme of “shut the doors of our families against HIV/AIDS”, the national council for the fight against the disease known as CNLS focuses on family actions in a bid to reduce the risks for the vulnerable in the country.

CNLS executive secretary Marie-Francke Puruhence announced the month-long health drive on Sunday on the eve of the World AIDS Day.

The country has launched a variety of anti-HIV/AIDS activities, including meetings of citizens, conferences at the ministerial level, medical check operations on the basis of volunteers, as well as training and education on the prevention and control of the disease.

According to a survey released in 2003, there were 120,000 patients suffering from AIDS in the Republic of Congo, more than 3.1 percent of the country’s 3.86 million population. As many as 78,000 orphans were registered as a result of the disease.

The survey also indicated that up to 95 percent of the patients had been affected through sexual activities, 3 percent of the cases through the mother-to-child infection and 2 percent through blood transfusion.

Editor: Pliny Han

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Special UN envoy chastises rebel leader in DR Congo

December 1, 2008,

The UN’s special envoy to Congo chided the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DR Congo) main rebel leader during a second round of peace talks for breaking a ceasefire, video footage taken inside the closed-door meeting showed.

The footage, taken by the UN and made available to journalists, shows an angry mediator, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, berating rebel leader Laurent Nkunda for starting an offensive along the border with Uganda last week, thus breaking a ceasefire in the middle of peace talks.

Since the first round of peace talks on Nov. 16, Nkunda’s forces have clashed with the army several times, and rebels captured two border posts and a town last week.

“You are making me a laughingstock,” Obasanjo told a seated Nkunda.

“What has happened in the last 14 days has not made me happy,” Obasanjo said on Saturday, adding, “If there is anything that will make you make a move against a self-imposed ceasefire by you, you should let me know. When I finished my first round of talks, I reported to you. You haven’t built the same confidence in me and I feel disappointed.’

Nkunda threatened all-out war if the government does not hold talks with him, reports said yesterday.

After the meeting, Nkunda said the government had no choice but to talk.

“If there is no negotiation, let us say then there is war,” the BBC reported Nkunda as saying late on Saturday. “I know that [the government] has no capacity to fight, so they have only one choice — negotiations.”

Nkunda said that Obasanjo should mediate the talks, which he wants to take place in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

Fighting between Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and government forces exploded into full-scale conflict in October when the rebels came on the verge of taking Goma, the capital of the eastern North Kivu Province.

More than 250,000 civilians have been displaced since August, aid agencies said.

Nkunda called a ceasefire and pulled his troops back from the front lines last month after meeting Obasanjo.

Despite the ceasefire, clashes have continued with government forces and the pro-government Mai Mai militia.

Nkunda’s men on Thursday seized the border town of Ishasha, about 120km from Goma, forcing over 15,000 refugees to flee to Uganda.

Civilians caught between the warring forces have suffered atrocities at the hands of all parties, the UN said.

There have been repeated reports of rape, looting and murder by the CNDP and government forces.

The UN has agreed to send another 3,000 troops to bolster the 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, known as MONUC. The peacekeepers are hopelessly overstretched by the conflict.

Nkunda has warned several times he will march on the capital Kinshasa if the government does not address his grievances.

The rebel general says he is fighting to protect Tutsis from Hutu militias who fled to DR Congo after Tutsi forces seized power in Rwanda.

The armed Hutu groups were implicated in the 1994 massacres in Rwanda, when 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

However, the DR Congo government has so far refused to talk to Nkunda and accused Rwanda of backing him.

There are fears the conflict could reignite the 1998-2003 war, which UN agencies say caused the deaths of over 5 million people in DR Congo.

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