DR Congo: UN rights panel calls for support for sexual violence victims

13 October 2010
The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, South Kivu is one of the few referral centres for sexually violated women

Victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), especially in remote areas of the vast country, need greater support, a high-level panel convened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to hear directly from the survivors said today.

Victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), especially in remote areas of the vast country, need greater support, a high-level panel convened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to hear directly from the survivors said today.

Between 30 September and 10 October, the panel, tasked by High Commissioner Navi Pillay to look into the adequacy of remedies and reparations available to sexual violence survivors, met with dozens of victims, ranging in age from three to 61 years, in three provinces.

In every place the three-member body visited, it also held talks with Government officials, as well as civil society and UN representatives.

“As we heard again and again, there is a deep need and a clear call from victims for much more assistance and reparation,” said Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner and chair of the panel.

“The lives they knew have been largely destroyed, and they are suffering greatly – physically, psychologically and materially.”

Sexual violence has been a serious problem for many years in the DRC, which has been described as the “rape capital of the world” by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, who joined the panel when it visited Bukavu in South Kivu province.

Last month, a UN human rights team confirmed that more than 300 civilians were raped between 30 July and 2 August in the Walikale region in the eastern part of the country, while warning that the total number of victims may be even higher.

Ms. Kang said today that victims often face stigma from their families and communities.

“Their husbands desert them, they are socially ostracized, and often this rejection is compounded for victims who suffer from fistula, victims who become pregnant and bear children as a result of rape, or victims who contract sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.”

Public recognition of the harm suffered by victims and support for the survivors, especially from the highest levels of Government, would help to change the culture that currently shames victims rather than the perpetrators of sexual violence, the panel found.

Health care and education for themselves and for their children were among the highest priorities for victims, while peace and security was the first and foremost concern for survivors in the war-ravaged Kivu provinces of eastern DRC.

“The women made it clear to us that the destruction must stop before any rebuilding can begin, and the panel is adding its own voice to this desperate plea for peace and security,” Ms. Kang noted.

With most victims not able to seek justice through the legal system since they could not identify or locate their perpetrators, the fight against impunity and access to justice are also vital elements, the body said.

There are many forms of reparation to fit the varying needs of victims, it said.

The panel met a woman who had been infected with HIV as a result of rape and unknowingly infected her husband.

“When he died, his family threw her and her children out of her own home,” Ms. Kang said. “For this woman, a house where she and her children can live in peace is what she most needs to rebuild her life.”

Even for victims who were able to identify their perpetrators and had the courage to bring their cases to court, the successes have been hollow since perpetrators have escaped from jail and no payments have been made on indemnities awarded to them, the high-level body said.

It also met with several male victims of sexual violence who suffer an additional layer of stigmatisation due to their gender.

The high-level body, with the support of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), contributed a much-needed boat to help an association of survivors of women victimized by a mass rape in 2003 in Songo Mboyo in Equateur province transport their goods down river to market.

Aside from Ms. Kang, the panel comprises Elisabeth Rehn, former Minister of Defense of Finland and currently a board member of the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims, and Denis Mukwege, Medical Director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, South Kivu.

It will a prepare report with recommendations to complement continuing efforts to promote justice for the High Commissioner to present to the DRC Government and others.

In a related development, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the security situation remains volatile in the Beni territory of North Kivu. Cases of extortion, rape and assassination carried out by armed bandits are reported daily.

The insecurity limits humanitarian access in several areas of neighbouring South Kivu, OCHA said.

The Office said that the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the DRC is at its lowest level since this January, having fallen from 1.98 million to 1.7 million between August and September.

The drop is due in large part to a significant decline in the number of IDPs in North Kivu, it said.

Meanwhile, in South Kivu, the number of uprooted people has climbed slightly to 676,000 as a result of the activities of armed groups.

Aid workers are increasingly concerned by insecurity and the resulting impediments to access in Kahele territory, home to nearly 300,000 IDPs, in northern South Kivu. Last week, six civilians were killed during an attack against their vehicles in broad daylight.


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