Picture of an anonymous woman in Goma, North Kivu, in the DRC. Picture courtesy of Freedom from Torture.
Rape is routinely used by state officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to torture politically active women, according to a new report from IRCT member Freedom from Torture.
The report Rape as Torture in the DRC : Sexual Violence Beyond the Conflict Zone collates evidence from 34 medical reports to highlight how rape, including repeated rape and gang rape, is being used by state security forces in prisons across the country to stop women speaking out about politics, human rights and, in some cases, rape itself.
UK-based Freedom From Torture warn that next week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict – part of the UK Government’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative – may not be broad enough to tackle the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where sexual violence is used as a weapon of torture even outside conflict zones.
The 34 survivors documented in this report include the young and old, traders and university graduates, and mothers and wives. Many of the cases came from the country’s capital, Kinshasa. In almost every case the women were involved in political or human rights campaigning. All but one of the women were raped on multiple occasions, and all tortured in other ways such as being burned on their genitals and breasts with cigarettes, or cut with knives.
In more than half of the cases examined, the women were gang raped with some instances involving up to ten rapists. In one case a medical evaluation documented 68 scars attributable to torture, 56 of which were caused by one particular incidence of gang rape.
“Their rape is clearly persecutory,” says Dr Juliet Cohen, Head of Doctors at Freedom from Torture. “The brutal and repeated sexual violence these women experience while being held in state facilities is a deliberate attempt to humiliate, punish and control not only these individuals, but also the whole group to which they belong.
“This evidence of persecutory rape is deeply disturbing and must not be excluded from ongoing discussions around sexual violence in the DRC. The government has a responsibility to protect detainees in its custody, and it is clearly failing in that duty,” says Dr Cohen.
The DRC is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) and the associated Optional Protocol. However it has not adhered to its reporting duties since 2005, therefore the anti-torture obligations under the Convention – such as the establishment of a national body for the prevention of torture - have no guarantee of being fulfilled.
While DRC is just one country in focus, rape and sexual abuse is widespread and has been used as a weapon of war and torture in more than 100 armed conflicts between 1989 and 1997.
“Gladly, through our grants program we have been able to reach out to some of these women. Our partners in the most affected regions, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have been offering the victims of sexual violence and torture services ranging from holistic psycho-social rehabilitation to livelihood programmes.
“However, in Congo, as the report from our member Freedom from Torture shockingly highlights, and in many other parts of the world, this problem needs urgent measures and further support,” says Victor Madrigal-Borloz, IRCT Secretary-General.
The IRCT joins its member Freedom from Torture in calling for the government of the DRC to fulfil its obligations under these treaties, and for the creation of a national body for the prevention of torture that can undertake regular visits to detention facilities and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.
Source : IRCT