Walter James (SOS Femme en Danger – SOSFED): Walter graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota. Following college, he worked on international development in Haiti and Senegal, and studied human rights and international development in Senegal, Costa Rica, and Morocco. Walter first visited Eastern Congo as a 2009 Peace Fellow for The Advocacy Project, where he documented the work of civil society organizations such as SOS Femmes en Danger, Arche d’Alliance, and Tunza Mazingira. The following year, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy with a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

Kikoze 3-26-11 [post modified on 5-22-11]

09 Apr

On March 31st, an attack on civilians occurred in the village of Kikoze, in the Haut Plateau of Uvira Territory.  The perpetrators were integrated ex-FRF units of the FARDC, stationed nearby.  A number of women in Kikoze were raped, and on April 5th, 9 survivors arrived in Uvira town to seek assistance and report the incident.  PSVS lodged the women and gave them first-response psychological care, while Arche d’Alliance collected the information regarding the attack for legal and human rights action.  PSVS also facilitated medical treatment for the women at the hospital in Uvira, with direct financial support from IRC.  Other organizations that provided resources and assistance were AMCAV and CICR.

Kikoze is about a 3-day journey out of Uvira, and most of the journey must be made on foot across difficult terrain.  In the remote areas of the Haut Plateau, monitoring the human rights situation remains difficult because of the lack of access to these areas.

On April 8th, all the women who had come down from Kikoze started their return journey home.  PSVS gave each woman a pagne and a cooking pot to take back home with her.

On the same day that the women of Kikoze were sent home, OCHA held its weekly security briefing, and the incident in Kikoze was discussed at length.  One of the concerns brought up at the OCHA meeting was that there still aren’t many transportation resources available for the Haut Plateau and other remote regions of the Eastern Congo.  Remember, it takes days to reach a place like Kikoze by foot, and it is hardly the most remote village in the Haut Plateau.  If a survivor requires immediate and drastic medical treatment, she may not be able to make it a major hospital in time.  In addition, human rights monitors in the Haut Plateau are also sparse, and villages in the hills lack the maisons d’ecoutes that are mostly scattered in towns along heavily populated thoroughfares.

Another alarming concern was brought to light; these women will return to Kikoze with their pagne and cooking pot, but there still remains little protection for them back in their village, or even en route to their homes, traveling on lonely mountain footpaths.  Some of those at the OCHA meeting expressed concern that the women were being sent home unaccompanied.  Indeed, even if they return home safely, they may risk being re-violated or even killed, since they dared seek help outside of their community and shared the details of the incident with human rights monitors.  The same FARDC unit is presumably still near Kikoze, with the violators in its ranks.  Were these women being sent to their doom after being already violated, with only a pagne and a cooking pot to show for it?

Again, an unfortunate symptom of the problem of sexual violence in the Kivus and the response from the NGO community: women are often left vulnerable after seeking assistance from humanitarian organizations.  Granted, protection from the FARDC is a responsibility that lies with the Congolese government, and they deserve criticism for failing to curb the depraved and violent behavior of their own soldiers.

Whether it is from the lack of resources to surmount the many obstacles, or from the lack of will to follow through, local and international organizations are failing to provide sufficient care and protection for many survivors.  Sometimes, the lack of creative thinking or recognition of these problems seem to defy common sense, and gives the appearance of apathy.  Much of what I heard at the OCHA meeting was a bit stultifying, although I don’t doubt there are many individuals and groups who are hard at work to assist survivors of sexual violence.   However, SOS FED, which is a tiny organization compared to a lot of the big-hitter NGOs in Uvira, appears to provide its beneficiaries with much better care than what was given to the survivors from Kikoze.

Women leaving our centers are accompanied back home by reintegration officers, who meet with community leaders to make sure that the reintegrating woman’s rights will be respected upon her return.  Currently, SOS FED’s two reintegration officers in Kazimia and Kikonde are accompanying women returning to the Ubwari Peninsula, the site of ongoing combat between the FARDC, FDLR, and Mai Mai.

In addition, women leaving our centers receive a small cash stipend to help them in starting over again in their community.  This is in addition to whatever income they gained at the SOS FED center from practicing communal cultivation.

Personally, I question how much psychological recovery survivors can gain in 3 days, especially considering the devastating psychosocial consequences of rape in Eastern Congo.  This is why we never send women home after 3 days with a pagne and a cooking pot.  However, SOS FED is still a small organization with limited resources confronting an enormous problem.  I believe the difference is that SOS FED’s model is highly replicable and yet still very effective.  SOS Fed’s model has an emphasis on wholly treating the outcomes of rape, including the social, psychological, and economic effects.  For what we cannot do ourselves, we seek partnerships with organizations like Arche d’Alliance to provide more complete assistance to our beneficiaries.

PSVS still does a pretty good job, and this is not meant to be a critique of PSVS or their financiers at IRC.  Nonetheless, perhaps the humanitarian community as a whole needs to look at the models by which they assist the women of South Kivu, and ask themselves if they are really as effective and efficient as they can be.  So far, no one is scrambling to replicate the SOS FED model, and SOS FED is still spending a lot less than what a lot of local NGOs here receive from international financiers.

The nine survivors from Kikoze demonstrated courage by making a dangerous journey to Uvira to seek assistance, denounce the perpetrators, and then return to their village.  Next week, MONUSCO is supposed to be sending a mission to Kikoze to investigate the incident.  The survivors who made their way to Uvira indicated that there are probably more women who were raped by the FARDC in the Kikoze area.  And we are only a little over three months into the year…


Posted Apr 9th, 2011

1 Comment

  • Chelsie

    April 15, 2011


    Would love to hear more about your mission and where you’ll be located throughout your year. I got your information because a family member of yours visited the church that supports my work…they thought we should know each other. I’m working at a Bilingual Christian University in Beni, North Kivu and have been for the last two years ( I was previously in Goma working with HEAL Africa and victims of gender-based violence. Thanks for your reporting on this incident.

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