The significance of the historical context, the violence of recent years is not a historical anomaly. Instead, violence, the implicit threat of violence, and the manipulation of identity groups and political formations that make mass violence possible have been a continuous feature of Congolese life, since the very idea of ‘the Congo’ first emerged. From the first contacts with European powers, the province has been seen as a source of valuable goods – rubber, copper, cobalt, diamonds, gold, timber and others.
The extraction of these resources was accompanied by a horrifying degree of direct or indirect structural violence. It is estimated, for example, that during the first forty years of King Leopold II’s ruthless plundering, ten million Congolese died in the process of rubber tapping and the construction of the Matadi-Leopoldville Railway . The achievement of quotas for production of rubber was ensured through inhuman punishments for failure to deliver – such as the severing of hands of less productive workers.
As elsewhere, the violence of the occupying European power was generally meted out through proxies, hence increasing tensions within and between indigenous identity groups. The ripple effects of exploitative actions during the rule of King Leopold and the colonial era are still felt, often in terms of conflict between ‘local’ communities and ‘immigrant’ communities who were forced or encouraged to move for economic purposes. The impact of colonialism on the local balance of power cannot be neglected.
In present day war is experiencing a new type of armed conflict, different from the more traditional war between nations. These new conflicts are characterised by the ‘privatisation’ of violence and the use of private armies, community self-defence groups and paramilitary forces, but above all by ethnically-based militias. The DRC combatants who have no regard for international agreements and protocols, which attack civilians especially female with no age limit and take them hostage.
Women are more likely to be the target of sexual violence, especially rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Parties to the armed conflicts and in neighbouring countries have committed horrendous atrocities. Opposition groups which have taken up arms on the grounds that the governments they are fighting violate human rights have themselves been responsible for abuses of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law, particularly deliberate and arbitrary killings of hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians, including women and children not taking part in the hostilities.
Much of the international community has, so far, either remained silent as unarmed civilians have been massacred or has taken sides with groups or governments responsible for human rights abuses. With a few exceptions, much of the international community has failed to condemn the overall climate of impunity in the region and thus fed the seemingly endless cycle of violence, human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
I believe that although the current situation in the DRC is already critical, there is still an opportunity to prevent needless loss of life and suffering for millions of innocent civilians. Foreign powers and others have provided arms or funds to buy them to parties to the armed conflict in the DRC. The abundance of weapons channelled to all sides to the armed conflict has contributed to a climate of violence and impunity in which defenceless people are routinely ill-treated or killed.
Despite this, none of the countries that have supplied weapons to the DRC and other countries involved in the conflict had taken any steps to ensure that their weapons would not be used to perpetrate human rights abuses. Furthermore, they have failed to acknowledge the part they and arms dealers in their countries have played in enabling armed forces in the Great Lakes region to commit human rights abuses. All the transition governments leader have a responsibility to ensure that arms and training which they or those under their jurisdiction supply are not used to commit human rights abuses.
The organization is opposed as a matter of principle to military, security or police transfers to government and armed opposition groups that can reasonably be assumed to contribute to human rights abuses such as deliberate and arbitrary killings, torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Such transfers may include equipment, personnel or training, as well as proven financial or logistical support for such transfers. World governments should prohibit such transfers unless it can be reasonably demonstrated that they will not contribute to human rights abuses.
What have I learned at the end of this survey carried out among 10 women victims of rape who were interviewed in the Kisangani and Lubunga? Women from the most disadvantaged and vulnerable social groups have been the main victims of sexual violence and abuse committed by armed groups. Worst affected are the main farmers – particularly women farmers, who are responsible for practically all (76%) of the subsistence economy of the region – and of childbearing age which means that the region’s socio-economic and demographic future is jeopardised.
Some interrogation arose from this data what could the social and ethical value of the family system in DRC? What could be the parental specially the patriarchal family commitments? And definitely what could be obligation and responsibility of men for his family? “My husband and I were at home and with my four children. Suddenly, there was an attack on our village. My husband managed to escape leaving me alone with children and I was eight months pregnant. I had no strength to run and my children were with me.
I had to protect them and so I couldn’t escape. Three armed men entered our house and tore off my clothes, as I remained naked in front of my children. They hit me with the butt of their guns and then raped me – all three of them, in front of my children. I lost consciousness. When my husband came back, he called the neighbours and they took me to the health centre. However, I still suffered from pain in the chest because of the knocks I received and in the vagina, too, inside, I feel something strange, as if it would sudden come out of my body.
I am very afraid to have caught diseases and at night I suffered from insomnia. The baby I was carrying at the time of the rape survived, but he is always sick and has constant diarrhoea. Since what happened, my husband insults me every day calling me the wife of the militiamen who raped me family convinced him that he have to chase me and he did it now . I leave in the place that the centre find for my and I have to take care about my children en myself. I have no joy, no peace of mind anymore. I am a ghost”