Anyone doubting the gravity of the situation women in eastern Congo face and the constant threat of sexual violence that exists throughout this region ought to take a glance at the recent happenings in and around a mining town called Walikale.
As both the New York Times and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently reported, the weekend of July 30th was truly one to remember (or possibly one to forget) in Walikale. Raids in the villages surrounding this mining town and FDLR (Rwandan rebel) base began on a Friday night. By the end of the weekend, at least 200 FDLR rebels who previously stated that they were just arriving to the villages for rest and food had raped 180 women, with the number of reported cases rising since according to local radio. Most women reporting their violations also reported that the rape was committed by up to six FDLR soldiers at a time. UN peacekeepers 20km from the villages being pillaged and violated mentioned that they were simply unaware this was happening over the three days of raids. Following the raids, the FDLR simply slunk back into the forest to wait, presumably vindicated in their success due to the lack of opposition they met and the clear inability of both the UN, the Mai-Mai militias, and the Congolese FARDC soldiers the protect the civilians in and around Walikale.
Is this story shocking anyone? It should force us to recognize the sheer vulnerability women in Congo suffer from, despite the group of ‘allies’ in place throughout eastern Congo to help prevent rampant violence and rape. Additionally, it forces us to look towards civil society groups like SOS FED, who realize the constant threat and continue to fight vulnerability in their own ways despite the inability of even armed protection to stem the rape crisis. Groups like SOS FED have an enormous weight on their shoulders, and their continual courage in light of stories like this weekend in Walikale is admirable. Finally, we must note the clear link between minerals and violence in Congo. The FDLR is not in Walikale by chance, but partially because of the lucrative business to be done there in tin ore. Bisie Mine near Walikale is infamous for the fact that it is regularly exploited by the most unsavory of armed groups. AP Fellow Sylvie Bisangwa recently blogged about the Financial Reform Bill and a rider attached concerning controlling the minerals coming from eastern Congo, which will hopefully make it more difficult (eventually) for armed groups to profit from Congo’s mineral wealth. But for now the crisis rolls on unabated.
The last question that came to my mind in reading this news was: Who is sitting on their hands while this happens? Congo’s government has long been doing more or less nothing to prevent rape. It’s no news that the majority of rapes occurring in Congo are committed by Congolese FARDC soldiers. The fact is that the current Amani Leo operation to crush the FDLR has merely added to the instability in the region. Additionally, the UN undoubtedly will come up with some justification for what is becoming a pattern of inactivity in response to crises occurring at their doorstep. I’m waiting to hear some explanation on this incident besides the UN Military spokesperson’s comment that ‘information is still being gathered.’ They are certainly charged with a daunting task in bring security to a very insecure place, but surely a base 20km from the scene of a weekend long rape spree ought to have had some idea it was occurring. When we consider that the UN is currently scaling down their troop concentration in eastern Congo, the confusion only grows.
The article I’m speaking about, written by Josh Kron, is here. It’s certainly worth reading closely.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Aug 25th, 2010