• Tuesday, December 23, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    An Opportunity to Say Never Again

    Gender activists in the DRC hope to make gender-based violence an election issue. / Credit: UNIFEM

    Gender activists in the DRC hope to make gender-based violence an election issue. / Credit: UNIFEM

    By Baudry Aluma

    SOUTH KIVU, DR Congo, Oct 25, 2010 (IPS) – Civil society in the DRC’s eastern province of South Kivu is determined that meaningful action will follow from the publication of the U.N.’s Mapping Project, a report detailing some of the most serious human rights violations by state and non-state actors in the DRC between 1993 and 2003.

    Armed conflict during this period was accompanied by the systematic and widespread use of rape and sexual assault. As part of a terror campaign, combatants committed public rapes, gang rapes, forced incest, sexual mutilation, disembowelling, genital mutilation and cannibalism against the civilian population.

    The contents of the report, which also addressed the need to both bring perpetrators to justice and for a process of truth and reconciliation, were leaked in August, provoking strong condemnation from the governments of Uganda and Rwanda, whose armed forces are implicated in the crimes documented.

    Congolese civil society however strongly supported the official release. On Sep. 3, a coalition of 220 Congolese human rights organisations published a statement welcoming the report and calling for judicial systems to be put in place so that the authors of these crimes can be held to account for their actions.

    The events in the report were not previously unknown, but six months of research by a team of investigators spread through the country provides careful documentation of the crimes. Civil society is beginning a series of actions to ensure follow up.

    “For the moment, this report is in the process of being unpacked page by page by a commission of the South Kivu Civil Society Coordinating Group,” said Dieudonné Sango, a member of the commission. “After reading it, we will make recommendations to the Congolese government, and the U.N.”

    There are plans to organise the translation into Kiswahili of a summary and relevant highlights of the report. “We are looking for funds for this. We will translate this report into all the dialects of the province so that residents can read it,” said Sango.

    “After a tour by our members of all eight territories to mobilise around this, we will allow several weeks for the reading of the report, and ask people to draw up their individual recommendations. This is an occasion to say never again to such crimes.”

    Solange Lwashiga, executive secretary of the Caucus of Women for Peace in South Kivu, said the report’s publication came just as women around the world prepared for the World March of Women, held on Oct. 13-17 in Bukavu.

    Among the events was a visit to the site where 15 women were buried alive in November 1999 after being tortured, raped and subjected to other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, according to the U.N. report. The World March of Women is a global movement to fight inequalities and gender-based discrimination.

    Lwashiga feels that in light of the scale of the crimes documented in the report, their complexity and their transnational character, Congolese courts will not have the authority to provide justice to the thousands of victims.

    “That’s why we are calling on the international community, with the active support of the Congolese authorities, to mobilise to provide justice to the forgotten victims of the different conflicts which bloodied the country and contributed also to ending the cycle of impunity and insecurity in DRC.”

    For Agnès Sadiki, vice president of AFEM, an association of women’s journalists in DRC, the goal is to bring women together ahead of the 2011 elections to demand practical and credible mechanism of justice and reparations for the crimes committed in DRC and block the election of any who are not ready to get involved with this.

    “The report will help because it’s recognition by the international community that women have suffered so much. “This wake up call, late as it is, by the U.N. is to be celebrated,” said Sadiki, who works for the public broadcaster, RTN.

    “In a sense, the information is known, women will strengthen their arguments by going out into all parts of the province, speaking to others who can’t read or write in different dialects and ask them to sign a petition to show the world that enough is enough and the world must get involved in putting and end to a cycle that has gone on too long.”

    The Congolese Coalition for Transitional Justice (CCTJ) will hold a national conference to support the mapping report in February 2011.

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