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Sexual Violence In the DRC: Background

The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is formally over, but women and girls remain targets for violence. Physical and economic insecurity still characterize the lives of women and girls. The threat of and the use of violence are constants.

As before the war, discrimination against women and girls underlies the violence perpetrated against them. The current climate of impunity allows the many forms of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, to flourish.

All armed groups involved in the conflict have perpetrated sexual violence. Today, several armed groups still use sexual violence as a weapon of war in the DRC.1 Further, international actors, including UN personnel, have been implicated in perpetrating sexual violence in the DRC.2 Armed actors systematically violate women and girls in the streets, fields, and homes.3 The armed actors in the DRC have perpetrated gender-based violence through various forms, including sexual slavery, kidnapping, forced recruitment, forced prostitution, and rape. The Congolese victims of sexual violence include men and boys, who have also suffered rape, sexual humiliation, and genital mutilation.4

Towards midnight, I heard the crackle of gunfire all around the village…As I was trying to escape with my children, seven soldiers broke down the door to my house, threw me down to the ground
and raped me. I lost consciousness till the next day...When I walk I have to hold my abdomen with my skirt, because it hurts so much. I cannot walk very far now and as the soldiers took everything, I can hardly manage to look after my children."5

Many survivors of sexual violence suffer from grave long-term psychological and physical health consequences, such as traumatic fistula and HIV. However, health infrastructure in the DRC is almost entirely absent. Shortage of medical services is particularly critical given the prevalence of sexually-transmitted infections and HIV among soldiers and irregular combatants. 6

Survivors of sexual violence face enormous barriers in securing justice through the courts or more informal, community-based mechanisms. At the community level, survivors usually suffer in silence, fearing stigma and ostracism if their ordeal is made public. Following her visit to the Great Lakes Region, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that “while victims (of sexual and gender-based violence) were stigmatized and socially ostracized, there was virtually no stigmatization of perpetrators.” Corrupt, under-capacitated justice systems hamper survivors’ attempts to bring perpetrators to justice through formal legal processes. 7

The extent of gender-based violence in the DRC can only be estimated, though sexual violence is understood to be widespread. In the province of South Kivu alone, local health centers report that an average of 40 women are raped daily.8 Sexual violence in Congo is vastly underreported due to insecurity in or inaccessibility to many areas and the physical or material inability of some victims to travel. Further, survivors may fear reprisals by perpetrators if they were to come forward. 9

"Sexual violence is regarded as the most widespread form of criminality in Congo...The government that is elected will be challenged to implement the principles of the constitution and address discrimination against women, in particular sexual violence."10

Armed Conflict In the DRC: Background

In 1999, the Congolese government, two armed groups, and five neighboring countries signed the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement.11 As determined in the peace agreement, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) established the UN Mission to the DRC (MONUC) to ensure the implementation of the Lusaka Accord.12 With the support of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and international observers, the DRC held its first democratic elections in 2006. The representation of women elected to the government is very low: 9 of 60 Ministers, 42 of 500 members of the National Assembly, 5 of 108 Senators; and 43 of 690 Provincial Assembly members are women.13 Only one woman was elected Vice-Governor, out of 22 gubernatorial posts.

The 2006 elections follow four years of transitional government aimed at setting up a government of national unity, as set out in the Sun City Peace Agreement of 2002. The Inter-Congolese Dialogues that preceded the signing Sun City Agreement were meant to provide space for national dialogue on the future of the DRC. However, civil society women’s rights advocates and governmental women representatives felt that they had little voice or influence. Congolese women, supported by international NGOs and UN entities, sought to harmonize women’s agendas for peace and security to influence the peace negotiations.14 The Nairobi Declaration, which demands for an end to violence against women and girls, is one of the results of women’s initiatives. 15

Three years after the establishment of the peacekeeping mission, the position of Senior Gender Advisor in MONUC was established and filled. Today, MONUC receives the most financial and human resources of all peacekeeping missions worldwide.16 The UN Country team, comprised of numerous UN entities and agencies, has been present in DRC since 1996. 17

Despite the achievement of a formal peace agreement, there has been little progress in establishing and advancing the rule of law, including justice, and respect for human rights. Fighting between militia groups and FARDC continues, as do human rights violations such as unlawful killings, abductions and sexual violence perpetrated by all armed groups. Most recent outbreaks of violence have been in the Eastern provinces.

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1Human Rights Watch, The War within the War: Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in Eastern Congo, 2002, and Réseau des Femmes pour un Développement Associatif (RFDA), Réseau des Femmes pour la Défense des Droits et la Paix (RFDP) and International Alert, Women's Bodies As Battleground : Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls During the War in the DRC, 2005 (accessed 03 July 2007).

2 Conduct Unit: Background, MONUC (accessed 11 July 2007).

3 Human Rights Watch, 2002; The Women of South Kivu, “Plaidoyer des femmes du sud-kivu à l'occasion de la journée internationale des femmes de l'an 2005” Bukavu (2005).

4 Wynne Russell, "Sexual Violence against men and boys," Forced Migration Review 27 (2007), 22-23.

5 Amnesty International, Democratic Republic of Congo: Mass rape – time for remedies. AI Index: AFR 62/018/2004, 26 October 2004. (Testimony given to Amnesty International by a 40 year old woman named Pauline, who comes from a rural area in South-Kivu)

6Human Rights Watch, 2002.

7Louise Arbor, Press conference by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 31 May 2007, United Nations News Center Department of Public Information, (accessed 28 June 2007).

8Claudia Rodriguez, Sexual Violence in South Kivu, Congo, Forced Migration Review 27 (2007).

9OCHA, 2007.

10International Crisis Group, “Beyond Victimhood: Women’s Peacebuildling in Sudan, Congo and Uganda” (June 2006), (accessed 13 July 2007).

11The signatories of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement are the following: Republic of Angola, Democratic Republlc of Congo, Republic of Namibia, Republic of Rwanda, Republic of Uganda, Republic of Zimbabwe, Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), Movement For the Liberation of the Congo (MLC).

12UNSC resolution 1258 of 06 August 1999.


14Femmes Africa Solidarité, African Women on Peace and Solidarity Mission to DRC, Kinshasa, December 2001, and IRIN Update for the Great Lakes, 2001, (accessed 03 July 2007)

15Nairobi Declaration, 2001, (accessed 03 July 2007)

16United Nations Organization Mission in the Congo, (accessed 28 June 2007). Current strength (31 May 2007) of MONUC includes 18,357 total uniformed personnel, including 16,593 troops, 728 military observers, 1,036 police; supported by 936 international civilian personnel, 2,028 local civilian staff and 607 United Nations Volunteers.

17Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, OHCHR in the DRC, (accessed 29 June 2007).