Oscar®-award winning actress Jessica Lange, newly appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), has called on the international community to put an end to the widespread brutal rape of women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"The world must stop the horror and help the survivors. And those responsible must be brought to justice," Ms. Lange said yesterday in London, where she just returned from a trip to the war-torn country. "Of the women and children who survive the stunning brutality, the physical, emotional and psychological damage will last a lifetime."
Last week, Ms. Lange visited eastern Congo on a four-day trip focused on sexual exploitation and rape and where she met with children and women affected by the conflict.
UNICEF said combatants of all armed groups in the DRC have committed brutal and sometimes systematic rape and other forms of sexual violence. Women and girls are often raped during military operations as a form of punishment for allegedly "supporting the enemy" and to instil shame and fear within the community. Husbands, fathers and children are sometimes forced to watch.
"It is overwhelming to witness their tremendous humanity in the face of such unspeakable brutality and the courage and strength with which they are facing the future," Ms. Lange said.
The lethal combination of high rates of HIV among soldiers and the massive number of rapes in eastern Congo means a possible death sentence for raped girls and women. Data from the Panzi hospital in Bukavu indicates that approximately 27 per cent of rape victims tested positive for HIV, according to UNICEF.
The conflict in DRC is one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis and the most deadly war ever documented in Africa. It has claimed an estimated 3.3 million lives since 1998 - mostly women, children and the elderly.