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Democratic Republic of Congo: Rape as a Weapon in North Kivu
July 19, 2006
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), rape forms part of the daily reality for women living in the North Kivu province, where violence has reigned for several years. In 2005, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams admitted 1,292 women who were victims of sexual violence and as many again in the first six months of 2006. These figures are extremely disturbing; however they only reflect a very small part of reality in this eastern region. Malika Saim, MSF desk manager for the DRC, outlines the response our teams are providing to the situation. response.
How do you explain the extent of sexual violence in the North Kivu province?
Rape is used as a tool to terrorize the population, and the number of cases increases with each new outbreak of fighting and attacks. While young girls under 18 are particularly targeted (close to 40 percent), the most affected age group is between the ages of 19 and 45 (53.6 percent). These are the women who work in the fields in order to provide for their families. The acts of aggression against them take place mainly in the fields but also on the roads used to get there. Consequently, women limit their travel. Thus, in our supplementary feeding centers in the Kayna, mothers have preferred to find accommodation in the direct vicinity rather than returning each week to get rations for their children.
What is MSF's response to this violence?
Additionally, on a legal level and for reasons of protection, a medical certificate attesting rape is systematically produced and offered to the patient. During 2005, in our North Kivu projects, 17 percent of women accepted the medical certificate and 21 percent filed a complaint with the local authorities. Finally, we strive to guarantee our two main principles — confidentiality and free health care.
What is your assessment of our activities?
In 2004 we treated 270 rape victims in one year in North Kivu —today this figure corresponds to the average number of cases we receive in one month. The number of rapes has not increased— instead, the accessibility to treatment has improved. The message is beginning to be delivered widely. The proportion of treatments in the 72-hour period is also clearly increasing, reaching 47 percent in certain projects, like in Rutshuru.
However, several aspects are still to be improved and questions remain concerning the previous need to test —or not — the victim's serology before giving an ARV prophylaxis, the addressing of psychological suffering within medical treatment, and also the limits we apply regarding legal procedures.
But beyond these recurrent issues, this type of response in a context like that of North Kivu creates other problematic questions. For example, rape, considered a weapon of war against civilian populations, also raises the issue of its political objective. Additionally, abortion is an issue that remains completely unresolved in a country like the DRC. Abortion —carried out as a matter of course in our projects— is nonetheless forbidden in this country, as is the importing and usage of the abortion pill.