“It’s just my body that became insensitive, that was lying there. I could not feel their hands, their skins and smell their odours anymore”.
This is part of Maguy’s testimony, a 13 year-old girl who was raped earlier last month by four armed men in the Mugunga camp located just west of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Maguy was first raped in March 2013 at Rubare, nearly 60 km to the north of Goma, during the fighting between the Congolese army and an armed group.”Following the rockets and mortar shells falling on our house, I ran alone. And that’s when I fell into the hands of armed men, then I was raped by two of them” “she explained.
Maguy is just one of the 71 young girls and women who have been displaced from Mugunga, an IDP camp in eastern Congo. The women sought protection and assistance at the Congo For Peace Without Borders (CFPWB) offices between April 20th and 30th 2013, and each have their own horrific tale of sexual violence at the hands of unidentified gunmen.
In a region of the DRC that has been described by Margot Wallstrom, the UN’s Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict,as both the ‘rape capital of the world’ and ‘the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman’, these stories are part of the crushing daily reality. Yet even for those working in the region, the prevalence and intensity of all forms of sexual violence in recent months has been truly shocking.
Oxfam International has estimated that since 1998, over 5.4 million people have lost their lives in the conflict which has ravaged the DRC. The eastern region of the Congo has been particularly affected by the use of systematic rape as a weapon of war. A widely disseminated United Nation’s report documented the raped of at least 97 women and 33 girls, some as young as 6, by Congolese troops fleeing the M23 rebels just last November. Despite a call by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that, ‘those responsible for such crimes must know that they will be prosecuted”, the violence has no end in sight.
Despite the overwhelming scale and systematic nature of the horror, brave grassroots activists and non-governmental organizations on the ground are doing what they can to assist the victims and curb the tide of suffering. Maguy’s testimony, as well as the stories of the other women who escaped with her, were all collected by one such organization working in Goma –Congo for Peace Without Borders.
CFPWB is a South African registered NGO that advocates for peace between communities; works to raise awareness of sexual violence and support rape and sexual abuse survivors as they heal. The majority of their services in Eastern Congo have been offered to rape and sexual abuse survivors free of charge. Operating solely on donations and funding from generous organizations and individuals, they struggle to provide as much assistance as they can muster with limited resources. CFPWB’s programs in include business and vocational skills training; rights awareness and health care and support.
Blandine is 19 years and has been diagnosed with AIDS after being raped on the day of the assault of the Mugunga Camp. Blandine was kidnapped on her way to the market outside the camp. “I saw with my own eyes how they buried a girl alive”, she recalls.
“If a girl tried to fight and resist them, she had to be executed immediately. Today I cannot eat, I suffer, but it’s more because I know that these barbarians continue to rape women and we allow them to do so”.
Malou is 22 years old and was kidnapped twice by two different armed groups. Her testimony is so overwhelming, with certain passages so barbaric, that they are difficult to put into print. “I have sometimes been raped more than eight times in one day”, she says.
“Whether the FDLR or Mai-Mai militia they are all the same. They kidnapped all the villages’ women from the age of 13. Once in the forest, they looked at us and those weighing less than 50 Kilos were killed. Others were less fortunate. They cut their breasts and eat them, because those armed men were persuaded that it will give them magic power. I saw these women dying and could not do anything for them. It was horrible …. they claimed they were seeking gold in our vaginas. But I consider myself lucky, I saw pregnant women being buried alive for the land to become fertile”.
This recent violence has created yet another humanitarian crisis across the region. More than half of these 71 rape survivors have suffered serious internal injuries requiring extensive medical attention. Getting such help, in a country with an underfunded, insufficiently skilled and over-extended health care system is virtually impossible. As of this week, CFPWB reports that 22 of the 71 rape survivors have been diagnosed HIV positive and that they are struggling to obtain anti-retroviral medicines or antibiotics.The 12 non-professional counsellors in the CFPWB office are struggling to provide sufficient psychological support to the victims.
The people of eastern DRC have suffered too much for far too long, and their desire for security and basic human rights has long been ignored. As the continent and the international community turn a blind eye to their suffering yet again, those working to make a difference on the ground buckle under the scale and depth of the tragedy. It is the duty of all those who can lend their voice to support the victims and urge African and world leaders to take a stand against the conflict engulfing the Congo.
Congo for Peace Without Borders is a non-profit organization that runs solely on donations. To contribute to their work in the eastern DRC, and to assist the women mentioned in this article, please contact Serge Tshibangu at email@example.com for more information. All names in this article have been changed to protect the individuals involved.