Global Resources

'Now, the world is without me' An investigation of sexual violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Author: S. Bartels
Publisher: Oxfam America
Publication Date: Jan 2010
When, where and how are women being attacked and what makes them vulnerable to sexual violence in South Kivu? How has the rape epidemic in South Kivu evolved over the last five years? This report looks at how rape was used as a strategic wartime weapon and the impacts of this gross human rights violation on women who have been systematically raped by combatant forces.

Research undertaken at the Panzi Hospital based in the South Kivu Province showed that women and girls of all ages, and statuses (single, married and widowed) were targeted for sexual violence. Whilst the data collected provides strong evidence that the armed combatants in South Kivu have been responsible for the majority of sexual assaults documented as having occurred there, there has also been a 17-fold increase in reported cases of civilian rape. The report suggests that the findings indicate a kind of “normalisation” of sexual violence among the community as a result of widespread rape during the conflict. Due to stigma and lack of awareness, many women who visited Panzi Hospital did so some time after the assault. This delay meant that important post-violence care, including HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), could not be given. The violence incurred during the assault also has profound social burdens, negatively impacting women’s livelihoods. For example, some women who suffered bodily injuries might struggle with the heavy physical labour required to cultivate the fields. Other women may be in a position to return, but may only be able to work in a reduced capacity, thus reducing their income and limiting the ability to support their families. Many survivors also seemed to have lost the support of their husbands.

The report suggests several areas that require greater research, including comparing the patterns of military rape between North and South Kivu, and understanding the outcomes of pregnancies that arise from sexual violence. The report also offers some recommendations:

  • The Congolese government and its international partners must ensure that quality care is available for women in all areas, in order to save lives and preserve quality of life. This would include substantially increasing provision of medical care for survivors of sexual violence and investing in the resourcing and coordination of referral systems.
  • The Congolese government and its international allies should work to reduce sexual violence linked to military action. This would include promoting non-military means of addressing security threats wherever possible, and systematically and specifically including the mitigation of civilian impact in the planning and implementation of all military operations.
  • The Congolese security services and the United Nations peacekeeping force (MONUC) must ensure that their protective deployments are tailored to local realities. This would include stepping up direct interaction with communities, and expanding early warning systems to increase responsiveness to security threats.