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