Tag Archives: rape

Bemba’s ICC trial postponed

Jean-Pierre Bemba, an anti-Kabila rebel warlord externally backed by Uganda and former Vice President of DRC’s transitional government (17 July 2003 to December 2006), was arrested on 24 May 2008,  pursuant to a warrant of arrest delivered by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court. He is accused of war crimes (murder, rape and pillaging) and crimes against humanity (murder and rape), during an armed conflict in the Central African Republic from 26 October 2002 to 15 March 2003. Bemba’s MLC forces are accused of leading a widespread and systematic attack against civilians.

Bemba’s trial has yet to have started. On 8 March, 2010, the ICC postponed the trial from 27 April to 5 July 2010, on account of an admissibility challenge brought by the Defence for Mr Bemba that must be assessed before trial commencement.

News announced on Congo Planet.

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Sexual violence in DRC in 2009: over 12,000 attacks

Compiled from 2009 Human Rights Report on the DRC by US Department of State, 11 March 2010.

**New report just in by Human Rights Watch, 28 March 2010, documenting the massacre of at least 321 civilians and abduction of 250 others in the Makombo area of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo in December 2009 by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Uganda.

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2009 Human Rights Report in DRC released by the US Department of State

On 11 March, the US Department of State released its 2009 Human Rights Report on the DRC, as part of its country reports on Human Rights practices.

The report summarizes evidence collected by various organizations to show that mass rape is still very much a weapon of war used by all armed groups, including  “security” forces such as the FARDC, the country’s army.

  • UN Population Fund (UNFPA): reported 2,075 cases of sexual violence in North Kivu, 834 in South Kivu, and 885 cases in Orientale (Jan-June, 2009)
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW):  the total number of sexual violence cases registered at health centers in North and South Kivu exceeded 7,500 by Sept. 2009, which was nearly double the total for the same period in 2008. HRW also reported in August 2009 that, in nine conflict zones it had visited since January, rape cases had doubled or tripled compared with 2008. In over half of the cases HRW recorded, the victims were gang-raped by two or more assailants. The youngest victim was 2 years old, and 65 percent of the cases in North Kivu were perpetrated by FARDC soldiers.
  • International Rescue Committee (IRC):  registered approximately 1,200 cases of rape in South Kivu during 2009 and found that up to 80 percent of survivors identified their assailants as members of either the FARDC or armed groups
  • International Cooperation (COOPI): observed between February and July, a 300 percent increase in the number of survivors of sexual violence it assisted in Maniema and Katanga, which the NGO attributed to a “spill-over effect” caused by Kimia II in neighboring conflict-affected provinces (North and South Kivu)

Organization of the report:

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life; b. Disappearance; c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention; e. Denial of Fair Public Trial; f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence; g. Use of Excessive Force and Other Abuses in Internal Conflicts

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press; b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association; c. Freedom of Religion; d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency

Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7 Worker Rights

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Bottom-up and top-down approaches to gender-based violence

The Inter Press Service (IPS) posted an article on April 18 about the responses to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in several central African countries and it has been picked up by many organizations and blogs (e.g. AWID, womensphere, The Advocates for Human Rights).

I was encouraged to read about both the top-down and a bottom-up approaches underway in the area to address sexual violence, which I think are equally important for effective change. Having legal structures in place regarding all forms of sexual violence against women is vital for preventing aggressors from acting with impunity, and may provide some preventative dissuasion. And public services are essential for dealing with the aftermath. On the other hand, changing attitudes is a slower process, and immensely difficult, but it offers the only hope of clipping sexual violence in the early stages before it can grow and take root.

At the state level, a Regional Gender Programme has just been launched by the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD), targeting five countries: DRC, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Gender and human rights experts from these countries met in Nairobi last April to find ways of challenging the the impunity for sexual and gender-based violence in the Great Lakes region. They plan to audit all public sectors including health and police services and the existing legislation in each country to document how they handle sexual violence.

The ACORD initiative is also piloting a bottom-up approach in five provinces of Burundi through its Agents of Change programme. Its central philosophy is that changing attitudes towards sexual violence and the rights of women begins at home. Couples are trained to spread anti-SGBV messages to their households with the aim of reaching at least ten people. These ten people will in turn act as “agents of change” to ten others in the extended family, and so on, recursively reaching the entire community.

Marie-Josée Bimansha is a female judge–the only one–presiding over the High Court of DRC, and president of the National Association of Women Judges of DRC. Although rape in DRC carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, and if a victim dies as a result of the crime, it becomes a capital offence, Bimansha says that a lack of funds for investigations means that fewer cases are convicted and sentenced.

She also said that because there is no money to conduct investigations, the courts must rely on evidence from the police, who are mostly men and some of them do not even believe there is rape.

This vote of non-confidence is a severe blow for the health, safety and well-being of women and the protection of their human rights. At a time when all community leaders, security forces, heads of state and international bodies need to immediately recognize the sexual violence crisis in the DRC and neighbouring regions and call for action, it is unconscionable to remain indifferent, or, worse, in denial.

Ugandan participants of the April meeting reported that district commissioners have dismissed sexual and gender-based violence as non-existent, asking that donor funds for psychosocial support for survivors of SGBV be directed to other sectors.

However, Pader, for example, is one of the worst affected districts by the 20-year old conflict between government forces and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, where forces from the two sides have been accused of numerous atrocities against civilians. Women and girls have been beaten, raped and maimed in horrific ways. Last year, 300 of the 412 reported gender-based violence cases in Pader involved rape.

And a recent study by Hustache et al.  conducted among sexual violence survivors in Brazzaville, Congo, “found the benefits of post-rape psychological support to be present and lasting in this conflict situation”. They evaluated 178 patients who had been raped by unknown persons in military clothing and admitted to MSF’s program for sexual violence survivors in Brazzaville. Among this group, 54.1% suffered from anxious disorders (54.1%) and 24.6% were afflicted with acute stress disorders. Out of 56 women evaluated prior to treatment, 50 women (89.3%) had extreme or medium impairment, and after psychological care, this number fell to 16 (28.6%), an improvement that was fully maintained 1-2 years later.

These results are encouraging, and more data of this sort is vital for lobbying for funding to keep existing psychosocial services alive as well as creating new ones. The data collected by ACORD in the Great Lakes region will add much-needed information to the dearth of documentation available on SGBV, and will arm policy reformists in battles to convince officials that sexual violence is real and needs their support.

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