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.


26 Jun

In my previous blog entry, I reported about an ongoing situation in and around the village of Nyakiele, where defected FARDC soldiers loyal to Col. Kifaru Niragiye are terrorizing the local population, with many cases of mass rape and pillage. Col. Kifaru was a leader in the PARECO rebel movement, which recently made a deal with the Congolese government and integrated its forces into the Congolese military. Col. Kifaru and his soldiers left the braçage center in Kananda on June 9 to protest changes in the local command structure. Nyakiele is located in the Moyen Plateau of Fizi Territory, close to the territorial capital Fizi Centre.

Last night I spoke to a MONUSCO official who is directly involved in the investigation of this incident.  The MONUSCO official told me that a Joint Assessment Team was sent to Nyakiele on June 25.  This assessment team, comprised of members of MONUSCO, OCHA, UNHCR, and local NGO partners, spoke with survivors, health officials, and local authorities. According to health officials in Nyakiele, the number of women who have reported being raped by Col. Kifaru’s troops now stands at 121.

Official reports state that Col. Kifaru left the bracage center in Kananda with about 170 of his soldiers in tow. However, the population in Nyakiele is reporting that there are closer to 300 troops in the area. Whether Col. Kifaru has reunited with other ex-PARECO elements or whether he is collaborating with other elements remains to be seen.

Next steps: MONUSCO is planning on sending a Joint Protection Team to Nyakiele to protect the population from further aggression. I have not yet heard whether the Congolese military is planning any action against Col. Kifaru’s troops.

The level of brutality that this particular area of Fizi Territory is experiencing is astounding. Even more mind-boggling is how the realpolitik of Congo has allowed for such a situation: a former rebel group that terrorized the Kivus in the mid-2000s makes a deal with the Congolese government and integrates itself into the state military, as the resources (and dare I say willpower?) of the Congolese government and the African/international community were lacking to properly eradicate the threat and ensure the safety of the civilian population.

Now, the people of Fizi, particularly the women, are paying the price of this experiment gone awry. Granted, not ALL of the FARDC soldiers currently in bracage have defected and gone on a rape spree, but my hope in the entire process of integrating rebel groups is considerably diminished because of the events of late. The toll that the civilian population paid during Kimya II and Amani Leo (Congolese military operations in 2009-2010) is well-documented; as armed groups, state-sanctioned, rebels, defectors, militia, and all, continue to operate in the Kivus, the war on women’s bodies will continue.

Is there an easy answer? No. The guns are already here, and there are men who already know they can serve their own desires by oppressing the weak and vulnerable. The FDLR still has to be driven out or brought to justice somehow, and that still requires military action and possibly some change in political thinking among Congo’s neighbors. A cold and cynical analysis of the situation might conclude that these blatant and widespread human rights abuses are but “collateral damage” in bringing stability to the Congo after years of open war. However, I am still not convinced that the women of Fizi deserve to suffer in order to achieve “stability”.


Posted Jun 26th, 2011


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