Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
Brooklyn, New York, United States
June 01
Freelance writer, editor, and first citizen of Judy's World.

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MARCH 1, 2011 3:54PM

Rape still used as a weapon of war in Congo

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Congolese women from the campaign
Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource


With global media attention focused on the revolutions in the Arab world, it's all the more important to shine some light on other news stories that refuse to go away, as much as we would like them to.  These unphotogenic events include the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


The vast DRC is a festering wound in Central Africa.  As I wrote in this space back in 2009, “[w]ith at least six million dead and up to 1,500 new victims added each day, along with untold millions of injured and displaced, it represents the bloodiest conflict since the Second World War and rivals the Holocaust in terms of sheer cruelty. The difference is that it didn't happen seventy years ago. It's happening right this minute.” The situation has improved little since I wrote those words.  In some areas, it has even grown worse.


Democratic Republic of Congo 

According to IRIN News, mass rape as a weapon of war is on the increase in South Kivu region in the eastern part of the country, with more than 200 men, women, and children being treated for rape by the aid organization Médecins sans Frontières since January 1.  On just four days in February, at least 56 persons were raped in the villages of Misisi/Milimba, and Bwala/Ibindi. “The survivors told MSF they were taken hostage, undressed and tied up with ropes. Women, men, and children were systematically beaten and raped. All their belongings were stolen.”  Local officials and aid workers have not seen anything like this since the high point of the Congolese civil war in the 1990s.  

Who is behind these attacks? In Congo, it seems there's nothing new under the sun. MSF suspects men from the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération de Rwanda (FDLR), an organization implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide that has been operating in the eastern DRC ever since. The FDLR and the Mai Mai rebels have been blamed for at least 3,000 reported rapes in 2010 and for more than 300 perpetrated in the Walikale region over a three-day period last August.


child soldiers DRC 
Child soldiers in the DRC


Why do the rebels treat civilians this way? According to Maurizio Giuliano of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Kinshasa, "[t]his is not about opportunistic rape, …it is a strategy. In this kind of attack, it is not only women that are targeted, but their families and the whole community.” In fact, local warlords require a terrorized population to maintain their own power and ensure a cheap labor force for the multinational mining operations in the region.


In 2007 the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative estimated that “as many as 70% of girls and women [in some regions of the eastern DRC] between the ages of ten and thirty have been raped or sexually mutilated. The uncommonly brutal nature of the crimes leads to a host of health problems for the survivor.”


But the problem in South Kivu and elsewhere in Africa is not just the prevalence of marauding soldiers, but a society where women lack agency, particularly in times of war and social unrest.  “Blurred lines of ‘consent’ add to women’s vulnerability,” says Claudia Rodriguez, humanitarian affairs officer at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the region. “In some areas of South Kivu a woman is the property of her husband’s family or becomes property of the community if her husband leaves or dies. Any man in the extended family or in the community can have access to her without the woman being able to refuse. The notion of consent is non-existent and therefore cases are not reported as violations. Other factors inhibiting reporting of such crimes include shame and the fear of being rejected and stigmatised.”

Rape makes this situation even worse. As Katie Thomas, an Australian-based psychologist specializing in trauma, writes in Forced Migration Review:  Women and girls who have experienced sexual violence have learned that the world is not safe for females. While an ethnic or national enemy can be avoided in a post-conflict scenario, it is not possible to avoid all males. Even though a woman or girl may be able to acknowledge intellectually that the men in her community may not pose a threat to her, she must still cope with fear and traumatic memories as she interacts with men on a daily basis. This can have a significant impact on her capacity to deal with those in her community.” In the meantime, local human rights activists are regularly threatened with violence and murder.

Congo's sorrows go back at least as far as the age of King Leopold and Joseph Conrad, when perhaps ten million Congolese were essentially worked and starved to death during the so-called scramble for Africa to meet Europe's insatiable demand for rubber and other precious raw materials.  But the exploitation never ended.  Today, “blood minerals” such as uranium for nuclear power plants and coltan for computers and cell phones continue to fuel an endless civil war.  Sixty-four percent of the earth’s coltan reserves are located in the DRC, and I think it's safe to say that people today pay even less thought to the origin of the coltan in their iPhones than 19th-century Whites paid to the provenance of the cotton in their underwear.  The human consequences of this lack of curiosity, however, are largely the same.

Gray gold... The blood mineral coltan 

Events like those in South Kivu are likely to continue until we start asking how many people had to be raped and murdered in order to get the latest high tech toy into our hands.


Click here to learn about the initiative Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource – Power to Women and Girls of DRC.

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Thank you for this, Judy. This situation in the Congo (and elsewhere) just blows my mind. I'm linking this to facebook.~r
Thanks for posting this, Judy. And for all of your posts about people in the world so often forgotten. I'm definitely sharing your story links wherever I can. Keep up the amazing work.
Thanks, Joan and Ingrid! I'm glad there are still people out there who are willing to hear about these things. I figure that sunlight is the best disinfectant, which is why I write about these topics.

You'll find the response from "your typical white American libtard feminist" in the blog posting above. Regarding your comments on "TNB," off my head I can think of a response that would be appropriate for posting on a family website like OS. I think I'll leave that to others.
Part of the problem is that they teach their children to fight instead of educating them; and they’re receiving tacit encouragement from the multi-nationals that only care about short term profit.

Good to see you back on OS.

Here is the problem with stopping it. First it's been going on for generations. Getting people there to believe that it's wrong would be like going to the Vatican and getting them to not be Catholic.

To force it to end will take the use of 10's of thousands of troops for years and years. Everybody in favor of using our military for the next 20 years in the Congo raise your hand. I don't see many hands going up here.

While it would be a great cause, President Obama is not going to do it because he won't get reelected if he does, and getting reelected is the most important thing to him. Not how many people are raped in a country most can't find on a map.
Thanks, zachery.

Very true, but what I find remarkable as a contributor to this site is how merely CALLING ATTENTION to a humanitarian issue (which is all I ever do here) is automatically read as a call for US military intervention. I find this disturbing.

Attention to the issue means I now know it's going on. How many people is that going to stop from getting raped today? If the UN gave it their attention today, how many people will that stop from getting raped? None. To stop it you are going to have to take active steps to get it done.

Granted if you don't know something is going on you can't fix it. However, something of this size and scope is not going to get fixed by a bunch of "do gooders" from your local community. It's going to take massive amounts of boots on the ground and those boots are going to have to defend themselves because those in control over there don't want things to change. Like it or not, that means the military.

Who else can you think of that can/will step in and put an end to the violence and rape there if not the military?
There will never be such an intervention because 1) as you rightly point out, nobody gives a damn, and 2) as I state above, we all profit from the misery there and don't even know it's happening, let alone demand answers. In any case, the region has been occupied by various military forces for years, including by abusive UN troops, with no sign of improvement. Au contraire. For some encouraging info, you can check out the link I provide. My point is therefore not to demand an invasion, but to draw attention to our oh-so enlightened and high tech culture's foundation of clay. Note that my banner up top says "There are more things in heaven and earth...," not "bombs away!"
This is so terribly tragic. Not only women raped systematically but children, too? It doesn't bear thinking about. But, then, it must. I, too, am guilty as charged for just having replaced my Macbook when I spilled water on the last one. And, the iPhone too. I feel terrible. Ashley Judd recently posted on Huff Post about her trip to the Congo to deal with this tragedy we all contribute to.

Thanks for the great reporting and for calling attention to something that is so often ignored. I'm sharing this on Facebook. ~R
catnliar doesn't know how to copy links, and if he did, he wouldn't understand anything, but the two syllable words.

Catn etal the military isn't the only way to solve problems; in fact in the long run it tends to be the most counter productive. the more effective way to solve the problems will involve setting up schools that teach children right before they become child soldiers. In the short term those schools may need some protection unti they can deal with those in power but part of the problem as stated before is that the corporations are conducting bussiness with many of the tyrants in these countries and funding them.