|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Thousands were raped, some had their limbs chopped off, many did not live to tell about it and some who survived were too afraid to speak, Yakin Erturk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, said at a Headquarters press briefing today.
Briefing the media on her visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo last July, she went on to say that some women and girls were abducted into sexual slavery and others forced to eat the flesh of their dead relatives. All atrocities were perpetrated despite the instalment of a democratically-elected Government in November 2006.
Ms. Erturk said that, in South Kivu Province alone, 4,500 sexual violence cases had been reported in the first half of 2007. Most of them had been committed by some of the 6,000-7,000 members of foreign non-State armed groups operating in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the national armed forces (FARDC), national police force and increasing numbers of civilians were also brutalizing women, often during violent clashes with political rivals.
She also recalled that, in April 2006, seven soldiers had been convicted of the December 2003 rape of more than 200 women and girls during a raid in Songo-Mboyo, Equateur Province. Though sentenced to life imprisonment in an Equateur military prison, they had since escaped or been set free. “Things are quite dire. The victims we become aware of are probably the tip of the iceberg. Many are in inaccessible places we don’t know about and they have little access to redress.”
Ms. Erturk, who will report her findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March, said the country’s deplorable and limited justice system offered little recourse. Its few courts were overwhelmed by even the small number of cases before them. Corruption was widespread and many women could not pay legal fees. While judges had awarded financial reparations to some victims of sexual violence, “not a penny” had been disbursed yet.
“Insecurity and impunity continue to be the main sources of the problem that continue the war on women […] and that threaten any chances of normalization of the situation and of peacebuilding,” she said, noting that impunity merely reinforced violence against women and civilians in general. Former Congolese militants often continued to commit the same sex crimes after they were demobilized and reintegrated either into civilian life or the army. Justice had taken a back seat to security.
“We know that in other post-conflict areas such a shortcut to peace simply does not work,” she said, referring to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The international community has to work closely with the Congolese Government to ensure that security and justice are simultaneously addressed.” A holistic approach was needed to give women equal rights in the world’s largely patriarchal societies, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and to reintegrate victims, not only through direct compensation, but also empowerment of women, recognition of their side of the story and ensuring that their experiences were reflected in measures taken thereafter.
That meant supporting the grass-roots initiatives undertaken by Congolese victims who had become human rights defenders to provide medical care and other services to other victims. Sexually brutalized women were usually ostracized and abandoned by their families. Greater efforts, including better coordinated international funding mechanisms, were needed to help victims rebuild their lives.
Ms. Erturk lauded a new Congolese law intended to curb sexual violence, but stressed that it must be implemented in order to be effective. Congolese officials should hold a judicial colloquium soon on the legal system’s ability to redress sexual violence.
Asked about efforts by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) to integrate sexual violence issues into its work, and whether it had reached out to Ms. Erturk since her July visit, she said that, despite its shortcomings, the Mission’s presence was vital, having prevented the situation from becoming even worse. The South African Government also deserved praise for putting on trial its own peacekeeping forces accused of committing sexual violence. Other troop-contributing States should follow suit.
In response to a question as to whether the International Criminal Court’s prosecutions on sexual violence cases were satisfactory, she said the Court was too far away from what was happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it had established important international norms criminalizing sexual violence against women.
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