Democratic Republic of Congo: New Strategies to Address Sexual Violence
Thursday, December 16, 2010 11:55 AM

The November issue of Forced Migration Review focuses on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In South Kivu, a region ravaged by armed conflict, women await treatment for rape-related injuries at the Panzi hospital. Many of the women are repeat victims of rape, and suffer from vaginal fistulas, an abnormal hole between a woman’s reproductive tract and her bladder or rectum, that requires reconstructive surgery. One doctor sees ten to twelve women a day, and is the only gynecologist in the South Kivu area of 65,000 square miles.

An article in the Forced Migration Review states that though the Congolese government passed laws against sexual violence in 2006, there has been limited success in reducing the problem. Instead, the article suggests more proactive strategies to improve protection of women, such as enforcing existing laws so that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable and the widespread culture of impunity is discouraged. In addition, it suggests training military forces in international human rights law and in the protection of women and girls. Other strategies include tailoring intervention programs to specific regions based on the patterns of attack, and changing the culture to encourage victims to come forward. The length of trials, fear of social stigma and retaliation from armed groups, and the overall corruption of the judicial system prevent women from seeking justice. Most importantly, the article calls on the Congolese government to clearly condemn the sexual violence women face from armed groups.

The 2006 sexual violence laws formally define rape, and criminalize sexual mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and forced marriage. In addition, they define statutory rape as sex with a minor under the age of sixteen, and establish penalties for rape. The laws also state that victims have the right to treatment from a doctor and a psychologist, and that court cases must not exceed three months and must take into consideration the victim’s wellbeing. In addition, questioning a victim’s character during court trials is prohibited.

Compiled from: Jessica Keralis, Beyond the silence: sexual violence in eastern DRC, Foreign Migration Review, (last accessed 16 December 2010); Sarah Mosely, Talita Cetinoglu, and Marit Glad, Protection from sexual violence in DRC, Forced Migration Review, (last accessed 16 December 2010).