With 2013 already being dubbed as the year to end rape, or at least bring violence against women to the forefront of media attention, this week brings promising news from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where sexual violence is commonly used as a weapon of war.
On Tuesday, (Jan 8) the UN’s Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict gave her reaction to the decision which has seen two of the DRC’s most infamous militias placed under Security Council sanctions.
Ms Zainab Hawa Bangura said: “The Security Council’s sanctions committee for the DRC has led the way in focusing on crimes of sexual violence,”
On 31st December 2012, the Sanctions Committee Concerning Democratic Republic of Congo added two Entities to the Sanctions List: The Forces Democratiques De Liberation Du Rwanda (FDLR) and The Mouvement Du 23 Mars (M23).
The FDLR was formed in 2000 and is is one of the largest foreign armed groups operating in the territory of the DRC. It has become known for its continued violation of international law in their violence against women and children throughout the conflict in the DRC.
A 2010 Amnesty International report on human rights detailed the findings of an NGO medical centre in DRC which listed around 60 women and girls a month, who had been raped by armed groups including the FDLR.
The Mouvement Du 23 Mars (M23) is another armed group operating in the DRC which has also been found guilty of all the above crimes. M23 has been responsible for mass civilian killings and and rapes carried out by fighters on women and girls as young as 8-years-old. Both groups are notorious for their forced recruitment of children.
Numerous reports listing killings, rapes and other violent attacks by the FDLR and M23 have contributed to them being added to the Sanctions List. The repercussions of this include arms embargoes, travel bans and freezing of assets.
‘Women Under Siege’ (an independent initiative documenting how sexualized violence is used as tools in genocide and conflict) offers a shocking glimpse into the horrors of the reality of conflict. According to them, four women are raped every five minutes in the DRC. Rape has almost become normalised. Thousands of rape victims are treated at the hospitals every year, many for vaginal reconstruction.
One witness statement reads: “Four men took me. They all raped me. At that time, I was nine months’ pregnant,” she says. “They gang-raped me and pushed sticks up my vagina—that’s when my baby died—they said it was better than killing me.”
It is now hoped that the DRC’s prime-minister will implement strategies already in place to prosecute those who committed crimes reported at the end of 2012. Ms Bangura said: “These recent sanctions by the Security Council serve as a reminder and signal of intent that they will be held accountable for all acts of sexual violence committed in these zones.”
Laura S Lea