DR Congo Detention Centre Deaths Rising: Bex Dunn

In the last week we have learned that the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen the number of people dying in its detention centres double in 2012 and we have also learnt that it is currently at the bottom of the pile in terms of the UN’s annual Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI considers factors such as life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and GDP and ranks states dependent on these factors.

It seems that despite the effort going into the Democratic Republic of Congo something is still hugely wrong. The number of people that have died in detention centres numbered 101 in 2012 which is unbelievable. 24 of these deaths have been reported as caused by torture or ill-treatment which raises significant questions over the actions of the Congolese government. There should not be a single case of torture that causes death; there should be no torture at all. Although there are arguments to say that torture should be acceptable, I doubt this was the case in many of these deaths. The arguments for torture claim that in the event that valuable information could be acquired that could save the lives of numerous civilians in imminent danger for example if there was a planned terrorist attack then it should be sanctioned.

The remainder of the number of deaths were caused by a combination of poor conditions in the centres, overcrowding, malnutrition, limited access to health care and lack of resources. These are all things that can be addressed and remedied. MONUSCO, the UN mission to the DRC is pushing for the government to remedy the situation and improve the conditions within prisons. They are also supporting the government’s decision to suspend high ranking officials that are suspected of corruption.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the DRC which could include increased monitoring of detention centre facilities to ensure there are no further cases of torture or ill-treatment. If the UN is to continue its work in the DRC it also needs to do more to restrain the government and protect not only the rights of civilians but also the basic rights of those in prison. Our responsibility to assist those in danger does not stop once they are detained.

Bex Dunn




UN Sanctions seek to stop rape as a weapon of war

Security Council Extends Sanctions on DRC Rebels, Condemns M23

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


Combatting sexual violence in the DRC

MONUC Visits Shelter for Victims of Sexual Abuse

On the 8th January the United Nations Security Council and the ‘1553’ committee added the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and 23 March Movement (M23) to its list of individuals and groups subject to sanctions. The committee is called 1553 after the Security Council resolution of 2004 that dealt with sanctions including arms embargos, and applies to individuals and groups that are not government related. The new special representative on sexual violence in conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura welcomed the move and claimed that it was a step forward in dealing with the issue of sexual violence. She urged member states to implement the sanctions including a travel ban and an assets freeze.

However positive this move may seem to be, it is still inadequate. Sexual violence in conflict is a huge problem in the DRC and it is becoming commonplace within communities as well. There is currently no specific taskforce for combatting sexual violence within the MONUSCO mandate which makes co-ordinating any action difficult. It falls under the remit of ‘protection’ and although Zainab Hawa Bangura is claiming that the addition of the FDLR and the M23 to the list of those facing sanctions is positive in terms of combatting sexual violence, it is not. They are not being sanctioned purely for sexual violence crimes; they are being sanctioned for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. I see this as no great move forward in the solution of sexual violence.

MONUSCO have definitely improved the situation in DRC with regard to sexual violence as they were instrumental in achieving the first prosecution of soldiers in Songo Mboyo for sexual violence crimes against women in Equateur province in 2006 and have begun improving the access for women to the judicial process. However there are still vast swathes of the country that are isolated and under the control of Mai Mai militia groups, M23 or other gangs and that are extremely vulnerable and cut off from the aid of MONUSCO or from the protection of the law.

The DRC has proven itself to be struggling to cope with the task of rebuilding the country due to its history, its vast size, the opposition from militia groups and the complete lack of infrastructure across certain areas. This is where the international aid is needed and where the international community has a responsibility to assist. From here aid can be distributed to remote areas and the economy can pick up through mobilisation of the population and resources. The international community should be less involved with the politics of the cities and focus on allowing the development of the Congo to occur through its own people. This will also facilitate action against sexual violence.

At present there simply isn’t the right level of feeling, understanding or foundation for an effective solution to sexual violence. The problem as seen by many NGO’s is that there isn’t enough medical care for the population, while this is undoubtedly true it is not the solution to the issue of sexual violence, it is merely treating the cause. Efforts need to be focused on laying the correct judicial infrastructure and educating the populace that there will be reprimands for violating the human rights of women in this way. I feel that this is how international aid should be spent as improving infrastructure will not only improve the situation for women but will also massively improve the general living standards for all and potentially loosen the grip of the militia groups on the DRC.

Bex Dunn