Jodi Bieber, A weapon of war – sexual violence, from PRIVATE 36 – AFRIKA[O]n the shore of Lake Tanganyika, Baraka has been the scene of unceasing suffering since the first war started in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in late 1996. Caught in between the cracks of a conflict opposing the various Congolese, Rwandan and Burundian armed groups and militias struggling for the power in the area, the civilian population had been subjected to brutal killings, persecution and pillaging that has forced them into a cycle of displacement-exile-return-displacement. Deprived from hardly any access to health care and facing constant food insecurity, the people of Baraka area have become a highly vulnerable population that was long abandoned by the international community.
There was another horrific dimension to the violence by warring parties – the sexual violence frequently and systematically perpetrated against hundreds of women, girls, elderly women and men of all ages. Increased transmission of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, in a country were there is barely any treatment available, and serious complications in reproductive health are the most alarming medical consequences of sexual violence. Fear, intrusive memories, nightmares and psychosomatic pain all over the body are only some of the symptoms displayed. Many men have rejected their wives who have been sexually violated. They are often isolated, ashamed and forced to find their own way of subsistence for themselves and their children. The victims often find themselves in economic distress that is made even more acute by the fact that they dare to go and cultivate their land. In its 2006 report on human rights in the DRC, Amnesty International said that “slow progress was (being) made in building security, justice and respect for human rights after nearly a decade of war”.
A UN report earlier this year found that physical violence against civilians by members of the security forces is “reported wherever army and police are deployed”. The report went on to say that rapes and other kinds of sexual violence against women and girls are occurring throughout the country, with the “main perpetrators being army and police officers”.