In the early hours of November 13th, four armed men entered a house in Rugenge, Uvira, near the Burundian border. Leaving others outside to assure that no one could intervene, they seized the small amount of money in the house. All four men then proceeded to take it in turns to rape the inhabitant of the house, Nema – a young mother of three.
Following their flight, the local community were able to apprehend one of the attackers, who was identified by the woman in question, and handed over to the local Chef du Quartier (neighbourhood leader). The Chef du Quartier then placed him in the hands of a local police officer. Following this, in a mysterious turn of events, during the short journey to the police station, the attacker managed to “escape” the officer’s clutches, and never made it to his final destination.
This is the latest in a spate of similar rape/robbery incidents which have plagued Kavimvira, a quartier on the outskirts of Uvira. During a particularly grave incident in October, armed men entered a house in the cover of darkness and raped both female inhabitants – a woman, and her ten year old daughter. All three have received medical and psychosocial care, coordinated by a network of local and national NGOs including AMCAV and the ICRC; however sources note that Nema is suffering from a severe case of post-traumatic stress, and is too fearful to return to her house. In both attacks, vulnerable women seem to have been targeted as easy prey – in the aforementioned instance, the husband and father was allegedly away on business, whilst the most recent attack targeted a widow.
The local community, wary of the petty corruption and paltry protection that Congolese security and justice sectors offer, and outraged at this most recent atrocity which occurred on their doorstep, are unanimously crying – “BRIBE!”, certain that the Chef du Quartier and police officer involved in the incident purposefully released the attacker in exchange for cash. On Monday of last week, a group of around 50 women gathered around the office of the Territorial Administrator for Uvira and the Uvira courtroom, demanding: that the perpetrators be handed over for popular justice; punishment for the Chef du Quartier and police officer involved; and improved security measures to protect the population of Kavimvira.
When their demands were not heard, the following day the women of Kavimvira gathered additional numbers and took to the main street, decorating themselves with garlands and wearing the distinctive Congolese pagnes (brightly coloured and patterned fabrics), and setting up a blockade over the main bridge in Kavimvira, refusing to let traffic or pedestrians through. Their barrier lasted several hours, with the police forces and Territorial Administrator eventually arriving on the scene to break up the protest and clear the through-route.
Upon arrival, the Territorial Administrator asked for 5 female and 5 male representatives to “negotiate” with him in private. Hopeful that their demands would be heard, the protestors quickly named representatives to take part in the discussions. However, in a disappointing reminder of the sour core of the Congolese authorities, an eyewitness noted that the “negotiations” consisted of the government official threatening to have the police open fire on the protestors – a group of around 200 unarmed women and a few men – should they refuse to disperse.
Luckily the Territorial Administrator did not follow through on his bluff, and no one was hurt during the protest, which lasted much of the day. As of the beginning of this week, there appears to have been no action taken to address the protestors’ demands – more updates on the situation to follow.
These most recent non-violent protests, whilst prompted by a tragic set of events, highlight the positive change taking place in the mentality of Congolese women, who are no longer willing to accept impunity and indifference in the face of chronic rape in the DRC. As awareness of women’s rights swells throughout the region, and more follow the examples of the growing number of brave women who have chosen to fight for their rights in “the world’s second most dangerous place to be a woman”, one can only hope that direct, grassroots actions such as last week’s will blossom into a burgeoning women’s rights movement.
« Ça suffit! » the women of Uvira have declared. The question now remains: will the Congolese authorities rise to their responsibilities and heed their peaceful warning?
Posted By Charlie Walker
Posted Nov 24th, 2011