The land of Congo is abundant with diamonds, gold, copper, and the blood of the victims of their decades-long civil war. It wasn’t just that of those who died but also those of women who were victims of mass rape, so rampant that the United Nations considered it a weapon and not a side effect of war.

Congo Wars

The Democratic Republic of Congo had two civil wars beginning in 1993. Years of internal strife, dictatorship, and economic decline posed a threat on the country, but the turning point was in 1994 when armed militias slaughtered members of the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa for about 100 days. This was known as the Rwandan genocide—estimates of death range from around 500,000 to 800,000. There were also problems of corruption, infighting militias, warlords, rebel groups, and chaotic military powers. Then-president Mobutu Sese Seko fell ill, and his once strong anti-communist stance was no longer sufficient. His governance was perceived as politically and financially bankrupt. Because of these weaknesses, Rwanda invaded Congo in 1996, and soon enough, other states like Uganda, Burundi, Angola, and Eritrea joined the chaos. If that was not enough, anti-Mobutu rebel groups also assembled. Mobutu’s regime put up resistance with the help of their allied militias, but they eventually collapsed. Laurent Kabila moved in to be the next president and renamed Zaire to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Laurent Désiré Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Etienne Scholasse, European Communities, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons)

The First Congo War ended in 1997, and not long after more than just a year, Second Congo War ensued. The root was pretty much the same as the first war. Tension started when Kabila dismissed his Rwandan chief of staff and replaced him with a Native Congolese. Two weeks later, he ordered all Rwandan and Ugandan military forces to leave the country. In August 1998, with the support of Rwanda, the Banyamulenge in Goma erupted into rebellion. Together, they formed a party called The Congolese Rally For Democracy, and they took control of the towns of Bukavu and Uvira in the Kivus. Expectedly, President Kabila fought back and urged the public to form a resistance against the Tutsis.

“Rape Capital of The World”

If your country leader is encouraging you to “bring a machete, a spear, an arrow, a hoe, spades, rakes, nails, truncheons, electric irons, barbed wire, stones, and the like,” it is expected that brutal violence will prevail throughout the war. Not only does it mean that people were killed, but just like starvation and fear, rape became widespread during the time of war in Congo. In fact, according to the study made by the American Public Health Association in 2011 entitled “Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo,”

Approximately 1.69 to 1.80 million women reported having been raped in their lifetime (with 407 397–433 785 women reporting having been raped in the preceding 12 months), and approximately 3.07 to 3.37 million women reported experiencing intimate partner sexual violence. Reports of sexual violence were largely independent of individual-level background factors. However, compared with women in Kinshasa, women in Nord-Kivu were significantly more likely to report all types of sexual violence.

Rape victims who have been successfully reintegrated into their communities assemble in a “peace hut” near Walungu, South Kivu in DRC. (USGov, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps it was to destroy the community or try to wreck their families, or maybe to instill fear to encourage them to leave their properties. Still, whatever the purpose of using this kind of violence against women was, it was no question that it was horrifyingly wicked. And no one was exempted as victims could be as young as 8 months old to as old as 80 years old. The American Journal of Public Health also wrote that “sexual violence is widespread and includes gang rape, abduction for purposes of sexual slavery, forced participation of family members in rape, and mutilation of women’s genitalia with knives and guns, among other atrocities.” Mass raping was so rampant that women just expected themselves to be raped, not only once, not even by just one. Some who refused were either stabbed, burnt, mutilated, or killed with a bullet in their genitals.

Not only was this traumatizing for the victims, but they also suffered physically from the torture, disfigured fistulas, and contracting sexually-transmitted diseases. That’s apart from the burden of those who got pregnant from the men (usually soldiers in uniform) who abused them.

Rebecca Masika Katsuva’s Story, One Among Thousands

Rebecca Masika Katsuva. (Wikipedia)

One story among the thousands of tales of rapes was of Rebecca Masika Katsuva. Her story was hard to read, even harder to imagine that something as horrible as this happened.

She was raped four times throughout her life. In 1999, her husband was killed in front of her before she was raped beside his husband’s dead body. Her two daughters, aged 13 and 14, were raped too, and both of them got pregnant. Disowned by his husband’s family, they were forced to leave their home. Despite all these things, Rebecca did not back down and instead founded a shelter where she adopted women who were victims of rape and the children they bore. She received a lot of threats from the soldiers for speaking up about their crime.

There were also reports of male rape, although the figures were unknown. One of the male victim’s accounts in Human Rights Watch narrated how he and his father were raped after being captured by the Union of Congolese Patriots after assuming that they were against them.

The End Of War Was Not The End

Several years and 5 million victims later, the war ended in 2013 with a 2013 United Nations peace treaty. Only a handful of 39 men were tried for counts of rape in Moniva. A thousand victims spoke up and gave their testimonies in the case, but only two men were convicted in the end.

That was not the end of it. Just last September 2020, fifty-six female detainees were repeatedly raped at Kasapa Central Prison in Lubumbashi by several inmates. Ten were sentenced to 15-year jail terms after the investigation.

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