“Impunity for these types of crimes must not be tolerated,” comes the call from Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence, after reports of more mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Forgive me for being a skeptic, but is that not exactly what the world is doing?
I actually vacillated about whether or not to write this post because it seems like it is no longer news. But that is exactly the problem: that a feminist, future lawyer, and activist, almost feels complacent. Almost. I am actually far from complacent. I am angry.
The news today reads that the latest leader of mass rapes against women in Congo was Kibibi Mutware, an army commander in eastern DRC. He is accused of leading the rapes of over 50 women in Fizi on New Year’s Day. Rape in Congo is certainly not “news” (click here for a broader history of Congo or here for another story about mass rape) but this is said to be the largest single incident allegedly involving the army. That we know about. Mutware denies all charges.
Here is some important background on Mutware. He was a former member of the CNDP rebel group, which has been accused of numerous human rights abuses. As a result of a peace agreement, Mutware was integrated as part of the army in 2009.
The most recent story allegedly goes something like this. An everyday fight between two men over a woman escalated into the government troops retaliating against the citizens of Fizi. The soldiers who committed the rapes, Mutware says, were simply “not following orders.”
In a country where rape brings shame and abandonment to the women who come forward, it is remarkable that 50 women went to the hospital following the attacks. One victim identified Mutware as one of the four men who raped her.
Others who were there during the attacks claim they heard Mutware tell his men to attack the civilians. Internal reports created by the UN peacekeeping force quotes local authorities as fingering Mutware as the man who directed the atrocities.
Legal Action “Promised”
Vianney Kazarama, the army spokesman for operations in South Kivu province, acknowledges that army soldiers were responsible for these latest attacks and promises “swift legal action,” according to the BBC.
“All those people who have abused the population have already been arrested. The zero-tolerance policy will be enforced on the spot in Fizi,” he said.
What You Can Do
I had a friend say to me once, a few years ago, “if we could just all get angry enough, raise our voices and scream against crimes like this, maybe someone would listen.” I remember it as if it was yesterday.
Rape in Congo is not new. In fact, it has been going on for decades. I hate to be redundant in the stories I write but this issue is one that gets very little press. I don’t claim to have the answers to the problems in Congo. You can, of course, get involved with organizations like Run for Congo Women. But the only thing I ask of you today, is to spread the word. People are afraid to talk about such atrocities but it is these injustices that need to be discussed even more. Awareness is a step. And although it may not prevent more rape against women in Congo, there is value to spreading the word and raising our collective voice.