the real weapons of mass destruction are in the congo

The conflict in the DRC is nothing new to the region. I would argue that the conflict began well before the assassination of the democratically elected leader, Lumumba, in 1961 and has only grown from there. After Lumumba was assassinated Mobutu Sese Seko gained power and ruled terribly for the next 32 years. He was overthrown by rebellion in 1997 by Laurent Kabila, who leader of the prominent rebel group. Unable to bring peace, Kabila faced his own rebel opposition until he was assassinated in 2001. Intense turmoil resumed in the DRC following Kabila’s assassination, sparking a six country war including Rwanda and Uganda. In 2002 a peace deal was signed to officially end the DRC conflict, 17,000 UN troops were deployed and yet the conflict continues. In 2006 Laurent’s son Joseph Kabila was elected in a tense, yet democratic and free election. Joseph Kabila faces opposition from his father’s rule (as well as support from his father’s popularity), calls that he is not Congolese – that his mother was Rwandan and he is not from the DRC, along with calls of corruption in his administration. When Joseph was born in Eastern Congo he was sent to live in hiding pretending to be part of a Tanzanian ethnic group. Later he recieved military training in China, which helps in the exploitation of the DRC’s vast resources. J. Kabila has been able to broker a written peace, but how well can he create peace in reality?

It is reported that 370,000 people have been displaced in a conflict that has more facets than a cut stone. Roughly 6000 Rwandan Hutu militiamen are hiding in the DRC hoping one day to invade Rwanda and retake control after the genocide they spurred. In an attempt to drive out the Hutu militias General Nkundu’s troops have torn through the region displacing thousands. He is estimated to control 8000 militiamen. Some claim that he is fighting a proxy war for the Rwandan government to keep the Hutu militias away from the Rwandan border. For this reason many local militias have formed to fight General Nkundu’s troops and stop them from wreaking havoc in the region.

The Eastern Region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has not seen peace in a long time and now there is an increase in violence against women. In September of this year, in an interview with the BBC, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women said that in the South Kivu province, sexual violence was the worst she has seen and warned that it was becoming something normal. Violence becoming normal? Sexual assault becoming normal? Rape becoming normal? In September the UN reported that there had already been 4000 incidents of sexual violence against women just in the Southern Kivu province.

It is interesting that Kabila is not doing more for the women of his home region and the region where he had the most political support. Why does he let the women of Eastern DRC be sexually abused? Rape has become so prevalent as a tool of war that women have stopped going to the fields. Girls as young as three, men, and boys have been raped too. Sadly even if the perpetrators are caught the court system refuses to hear cases on rape, witnesses are frightened away, and military leaders refuse to help. This year V-Day and UNICEF have partnered to raise awareness and bring aid to women affected by the weapon of mass destruction that is rape.

Since 1996, sexual violence against women and children in the eastern part of the DRC has been used to torture and humiliate women and girls and destroy families. UNICEF estimates that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped since the conflict began in DRC. In addition to the severe psychological impact, sexual violence leaves many survivors with genital lesions, traumatic fistulae and other physical wounds, as well as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

All of the military forces have used rape as a weapon of war, even UN personnel have been implicated in cases of rape in the DRC. The victims of rape experience more than just the physical impacts of the act – from ostracism to physcological effects to a lack of justice through the local and formal courts. I cannot even begin to write everything of importance here and would highly recommend the V-Day site to read the full story and access a great set of resources to learn more.

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