25 August, 2010

Sexual Assault in the Congo:

Reprinted from UN Dispatch:

DRC: the SG has issued a statement today in response to the rape and assault of at least 154 Congolese civilians during an attack by armed elements of the Mai-Mai and FDLR in eastern DRC earlier this month, expressing his “outrage”, calling on armed groups in the DRC to lay down their weapons and join the peace process and calling on the government of the DRC to investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. He has decided to immediately dispatch ASG Atul Khare, Officer-in-Charge of DPKO to the DRC, and has instructed Margot Wallström, SRSG for Sexual Violence in Conflict, to take the lead in the UN’s response and follow-up to the incident. Wallström has also issued a strongly-worded statement “condemning the rapes in the strongest possible terms”.

Incase you missed what happened - from The BBC:

"According to reports, the rebels gang-raped nearly 200 women and some baby boys over four days...by fighters from the Rwandan FDLR militia and Congolese Mai-Mai rebels in the village of Bunangiri, Mr Nesirky said. 'The secretary-general is outraged by the rape and assault. This is another grave example of both the level of sexual violence and the insecurity that continue to plague Congo,' he told the Associated Press. ... In April, a senior UN official said it was "the rape capital of the world." A report by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative showed that 60% of rape victims in South Kivu province had been gang-raped by armed men. ... More than 8,000 women were raped during fighting in 2009, the UN says. "

So what are we to do with this? The attack happened a few days ago, and I am still unable to formulate a calm response. It makes me angry - so angry. How much longer? How much freaking longer are we going to allow this to happen?

What is it going to take? The totality of women raped this year in the Congo will be a footnote to one incident. The fact that sexual violence in that region has been going on for over a decade will be a sentence at the end of the story - if this even makes it onto the nightly news.

All I can see is that scene in Hotel Rwanda where Paul Rusesabagina is taking to Jack - a reporter at the hotel. And Paul says: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.

Jack looks at the TV: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?

Paul looks at him stunned and horrified: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?

To which Jack answers: I think if people see this footage they'll say, 'Oh my God that's horrible,' and then go on eating their dinners.

I don't think we can comprehend 400 women and children being raped in four days. We cannot imagine gangs of rebels gang raping that many people in that short a time. We cannot fathom it - our minds will not allow us to fully take that in. So we justify it by saying, "Oh that's Africa." "It's a time of war." Or claiming there is nothing we can do. It is an issue happening "over there" so we can move on in our lives, go back to our dinner and turn this absolutely cowardly incident into a topic of discussion.

And the thing is I don't know how to respond to it.

Policy is Washington won't do anything. Awareness is a step - yes. It's frustrating because anything I can think of is behind the action - victims assistance and care (which is VITAL don't get me wrong...) but if you are always two steps behind the problem how do you solve it? Response only is not a lasting option because it will never solve the issue.

Just breaks my heart...