Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Rape and violence against women as weapon of war: one DRC woman speaks out

One gorilla vs 500,000 women
"We ask: 'Why the silence of the developed countries? When a gorilla is killed in the mountains, there is an outcry, and people mobilize great resources to protect the animals. Yet more than five hundred thousand women have been raped, and there is silence."
This is what Democratic Republic of Congo's journalist Chouchou Namegabe testified at a hearing on sexual violence in the DRC before the US Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations in May.

“The women ask WHY? Why such atrocities? Why do they fight their war on women’s bodies? It is because there is a plan to put fear into the community through the woman, because she is the heart of the community. When she is pushed down, the whole community follows. The rapes are targeted and intentional, and are meant to remove the people from their mineral-rich land through fear, shame, violence, and the intentional spread of HIV throughout entire families and villages.

After all of this you will make memorials and say 'Never Again.' But we don't need commemorations; we want you to act now,” continued Namegabe, visibly anguished and angry.
She is founder of the South Kivu Women’s Media Association, known as Association des Femmes des Medias du Sud Kivu (AFEM-SK). The organization gives a voice to thousands of voiceless women. They use radio to give women the space to express what has happened to them, begin their healing and seek justice.
We don't need memorials, but actions
"We have interviewed over 400 women in South Kivu, and their stories are terrifying. In fact, the word rape fails to truly describe what is happening, because it is not only rape that occurs, but atrocities also accompany the rapes. That is what makes the situation in the eastern Congo so different, and horrible. Of all the testimonies we recorded there are two that stay in my mind that I will share with you.

I met a woman who had 5 children. They took her into the forest with her 5 children, and kept them there for several days. As each day passed the rebels killed one of her children and forced her to eat her child's flesh. She begged to be killed but they refused and said, “No, we can't give you a good death.

Last month, after the joint operation between the Congolese army and the Rwandese army to break down the FDLR1, in their running away the FDLR raped more women. Our journalists were told that after they raped the women, they put fuel in their vaginas and set them on fire, and then extinguished the fire. This was done not to kill them, but to let them suffer. There were many other horrible atrocities."

Why our silence and inaction? What are we waiting for? Namegabe is right to say that the international community would have never let so many gorillas suffer in this way.

To read about the six actions Namegabe is requesting, go to the full transcript of the hearing.

And to watch her testimony on YouTube:

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