Monday, October 18, 2010 at 5:01 AM

Rape as a Weapon of War in Congo

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

It speaks volumes that the raping of thousands is becoming a more defining feature of the civil/regional war still brewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) than the killing of millions. (This war began in 1998 and officially ended in 2003….)

According to the UN Population Fund, there were 17,507 sexual violence attacks throughout Congo in 2009 – including more than 9,000 in North and South Kivu, which have been at the centre of the conflict in the east.

(Aljazeera, October 16, 2010)

No doubt this is why so much media coverage attended last week’s visit to this war-ravaged country by Margot Wallstrom, the UN special envoy on sexual violence against women in conflict.

It’s worth noting, however, that sexual violence has been perpetrated against women as a staff of conflict and a perk of conquest from time immemorial.

And there’s no greater testament to this fact than the way white men raped (and impregnated) black women during the Antebellum Era in the United States. Never mind that miscegenation laws were a fact of life in America from the late seventeenth century to the late 1960s. Interestingly enough, mass rapes in this context account for the fact that so many black Americans do not look like they hail from any of the ethnic groups in Africa. But I digress….

(Well, I just think it’s helpful to bear in mind that the black barbarians who are raping women as a weapon of war today may have more to redeem themselves than the white barbarians who raped women simply as a prerogative of presumed racial superiority back then.)

That said, the rapes being committed in the DRC smack of a genocidal plan.  Yet nothing reflects how inured the world has become to chronic violence in Africa and the suffering it breeds quite like the indifference to these rapes that has been manifest in the capitals of Europe and America. 

This brings me to last week’s ironic visit by the UN delegation to the DRC. Because what makes the pervasive nature of these rapes so troubling is that the vast majority of them occurred under the noses of UN peacekeeping forces

After all, what happened in 2009 also happened in 2005, when I first lamented these rapes in a published commentary, and has happened every year since. Even worse, in far too many cases the victims had just cause to fear the peacekeepers as much as the combatants (on both sides of this infernal and interminable civil war):

A few weeks ago, disgusted officials leaked an internal UN report which found that peacekeepers had sexually molested and abused African refugees in the DR Congo. These leaks forced [Secretary General Kofi] Annan to admit that he had known for some time about his staff’s criminal conduct – including pedophilia, rape and prostitution (some of which was caught on tape).

He offered words of contrition to the African victims and pledged to convene a commission to investigate these crimes. But his contrition would’ve been far more persuasive had another UN report a few years ago not found evidence of similar “widespread” sexual abuse of African refugees by UN personnel and peacekeepers.

(Kofi Annan’s UN Malaise, The iPINIONS Journal, February 20, 2005)

This is why I’m so convinced that this highly publicized visit by the UN special envoy will do little to combat the onslaught of rape in the DRC.  For as much as UN and local officials talk about protecting women and holding the perpetrators to account, it is distressingly and patently clear that there’s little that they can or are willing to do.

The reality is that eastern DR Congo itself is shattered, with both rebels and government troops preying on civilians. In such a context of lawlessness, what can be done?

(Barbara Plett, BBC UN Correspondent, October 14, 2010)

May God help the poor, defenseless women of the DRC….

Related commentaries:
Kofi Annan’s UN Malaise

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