Recently released accounts that the FDLR gang-raped roughly 200 women—and four baby boys—during the course of a four-day raid on a group of villages near Walikale in the North Kivu province of eastern Congo is a stark reminder of why increased pressure to disarm rebel groups and choke off the economic drivers of conflict in the area is so critical. Reports allege that during the attack, which took place only 20 km from a U.N. peacekeeping base, most of the women were raped simultaneously and by more than one attacker. One official from the NGO International Medical Corps, which has been documenting rape cases in the region, claimed that the rebels in this case were “systematically” raping the population and “most women were raped by two to six men at a time,” in several instances “in front of their children and their families.”
Although the conflict in eastern Congo remains one of the world’s most complex, one thing is for certain: widespread sexual violence and atrocities committed against civilians are not abating, and in many regions they continue to increase. A year ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the use of rape as a weapon in the region, calling it “evil in its basest form.” Secretary Clinton pledged $28 million to fight sexual violence in the Congo and support victims of rape. This support can’t come fast enough—but it will also not be enough. Concerned citizens worldwide must continue to raise their collective voices to pressure U.S. leaders, their national representatives, and other western governments to not only take stock of the horrific human rights abuses occurring in the region, but to take action as well. There is a moral imperative at play for those of us who value women and children in our society, who believe in the strength of community, and who feel that no human should have to endure a daily existence of fear for rape, amputation, or forced cannibalism.
The road to peace in eastern Congo is long and cobbled with significant obstacles. Complex issues remain, including the predatory behavior of the Congolese army, grievances around land rights and citizenship, and the utter lack of accountability for human rights violators. There is no silver bullet that will stop horrifying incidents like this. However, the impetus to act against the use of rape as a weapon of mass destruction goes beyond the usual geopolitical and economic considerations of foreign policy. There is a human need for action against such atrocities. Those responsible for ordering and committing these abuses must be held accountable, and communities who have endured such trauma must be given support to heal. Thus far our leaders have yet to show they are interested in moving beyond empty rhetoric and throwing money at problems. We must continue to raise our voices for the citizens of Congo and to pressure our leaders to take action to stop those groups responsible for these unconscionable acts.
Photo: Three Congolese women (Enough)