3 March 2011 A United Nations report unveiled today highlights the deprivations endured by thousands of victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including poverty, denial of justice and lack of access to medical and psychological treatment, and recommends the establishment of a reparations fund.
“Remedies and Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” prepared by a special high-level panel appointed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, reveals that the survivors of sexual violence have no recourse to compensation and other forms of remedies or reparations.
During the panel’s visit to DRC from 27 September to 13 October 2010, its members heard from 61 survivors of sexual violence, ranging from a girl raped when she was three years old to a 61-year-old grandmother, about what they perceived their actual needs to be.
The panel met with some individuals and groups, the report says, “including victims who had contracted HIV/AIDS as a result of rape, victims who had become pregnant and had children as a result of rape, victims whose husbands had rejected them following their rape, child victims of rape, victims of rape who had taken their cases to court seeking justice, and victims of rape by civilian perpetrators.
“Among the victims with special needs whom the panel met were a girl with sensory disabilities, a young woman who is blind, and four men, two of whom were raped and two of whom were sexually assaulted in other ways,” the report states.
Health care and education were among the highest priorities conveyed to the panel by victims.
“They are determined, but in many cases unable, to send their children to school. Those who have contracted HIV/AIDS are deeply troubled by concern over what will happen to their children when they die. Many victims who met with the panel have been displaced from their homes. They expressed the need for socio-economic reintegration programmes.”
Many women never report the rapes, either due to fear of stigmatization or lack of faith in the judicial system. “There is no point in making an accusation,” one woman said. “I learned by example from most people raped before me that there is no justice,” she said.
The report notes that “these victims expressed great frustration because their perpetrators have escaped from prison while they have not been paid the damages … even in those cases where the State has been held liable.”
The report notes that most victims interviewed were unable to seek justice through the courts because they cannot identify their perpetrators, or in some cases, because perpetrators have not been arrested.
The panel recommends that a fund to support reparations be established as a matter of priority, and that the management of the fund include representatives of the Government of the DRC, the UN, donors, civil society, and survivors themselves.
The panel was comprised of Kyung-wha Kang, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights; Elisabeth Rehn, former Minister of Defense of Finland; and Denis Mukwege, Medical Director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the capital of DRC’s South Kivu province.
Commenting on the report, Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who is currently visiting victims in the eastern DRC city of Goma, said sexual violence undermined the social fabric and reinforced a vicious cycle of violence.
“Sexual violence is a despicable crime for which there can be no impunity; its perpetrators must be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Mr. Lake said in a statement. He described the report as a “valuable contribution” to efforts to end sexual violence in DRC.
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