The savagery in the Congo is beyond imagination
Militiamen and renegade soldiers have raped and beaten tens of thousands of women and girls in eastern Congo, and nearly all the crimes have gone unpunished.
"The victims have suffered, but they want their stories told", writes Jackie Martens for the BBC in the Congo.
Below is a copy of Jackie's report of January 24, 2004, that tells the story of the savagery of men in the Congo and victims like Vumi who is shunned by her community because of what men have done to her [photos courtesy Ali's blog]:
"We have many stories like this that make us shed our tears, I used to cry, but have now become more desensitised... this happens all over this area, sometimes to children as young as nine" says Care worker Jeanne Banyere.
The war in Congo, estimated to have killed three million people and involving armies from seven different countries, is coming to an end. But, as United Nations troops move into areas previously ravaged by war, the true horror of what was wrought on the population is now emerging.
It was after a torturous two-hour drive along a windy dirt road, high up in the mountains, that we found Vumiliar Lukindo - or just Vumi. As we walked forward to meet the tiny 16-year-old, she doubled over, clutching her stomach and trying to cover her feet with the faded cloth she had wrapped around her body. She averted her eyes. Urine covered her feet.
Vumi suffers from incontinence, and cannot sit down because of the pain, the result of a horrific rape incident last October.
"The attack happened at night, and we were forced to flee into the bush," she said, in a voice barely more than a whisper. "Four men took me. They all raped me. At that time I was nine months pregnant." "They gang-raped me and pushed sticks up my vagina - that's when my baby died - they said it was better than killing me." The men then stole her few belongings and her community, unable to live with the smell, shunned her. Now she hopes only to be healed.
In a country ravaged by war, where rape is used as a weapon and having a gun means you can act with impunity, Vumi is not alone. Spending only a few hours in Kitchanga, a small, sleepy village supplemented by many refugees of this conflict, we met many other women with equally horrific stories to tell, but who wanted such stories told.
Kahindo Ndasimwa, dressed in little more than rags, told of how militia attacked her village one night two years ago, forcing her to flee into the bush. The 40-year-old was then repeatedly raped by four men - their legacy a continual stream of urine down her legs.
Bahati Ndasimwa, a 24-year-old with a round friendly face - but eyes that told of torture - said she was raped by too many men to count. Her community then also rejected her.
Furaha Mapendo was staked to the ground with her legs splayed by 10 men, who then had their way with her. With her eyes staring fixedly at the ground, the 24-year-old told of how the men pushed sticks and various objects into her for an entire night, six years ago.
These women all suffer from vaginal fistula, a medical condition found in countries with poor health infrastructure, which is usually a result of poor childbirth care. In this part of the world, it is caused by violent rape. The walls between the vagina, bladder and anus are torn, resulting in severe pain and debilitating incontinence.
"We have many stories like this that make us shed our tears," said Jeanne Banyere, or Mama Jeanne to all who know this remarkable woman. "I used to cry, but have now become more desensitised. This happens all over this area, sometimes to children as young as nine."
Mama Jeanne - who also looks after 62 orphans - is one of a handful of dedicated people from the Women's Protestant Federation that network these remote parts of the Congo, providing counselling and hope to these women.
They are often the only chance these women, ostracised by their communities, have of getting to Docs (Doctors on Call for Service) and getting the vital operation they need to rebuild their vaginas.
Docs runs a medical centre in the centre of Goma, a large town with little infrastructure situated close to the Rwanda border. It provides training through experience for local doctors while helping the community. Faced with an increasing number of women in desperate need of this operation, but lacking resources, facilities and space, Docs has erected two big white tents in their compound. The tents are full of women waiting for their turn on the operating table.
It is here that we found Dr Longombe Ahuka, a 48-year-old father of three. Dr Ahuka is the general surgeon at Docs tasked with undertaking this delicate operation. Together with two other doctors he has trained, this team has performed reconstructive surgery on more than 90 women, allowing them to return to their communities.
Dr Ahuka is no stranger to this war. He was forced to flee from the hospital he was working in when it was attacked by armed militants. Hundreds were killed and the hospital looted. "I saw so many bad things, it is an honour for me to also be able to repair [them]," he said.
'Savagery beyond imagination'
The surgeon recounted one case of a woman who had the barrel of a gun inserted into her vagina. The soldier then opened fire.
"The savagery we have here is beyond imagination," he said. "They use all kinds of objects they can lay their hands on," he added, making a plea for the "world to be told about it, to be told of this reality".
The women waiting face a double blow. Associated with rape is the risk of being infected with HIV. Of all the cases Dr Ahuka dealt with between May and October last year, 24% were HIV positive.
Safari Masika was waiting for her second operation when we met her. Depending on the severity of the injury, up to four operations are needed for complete reconstruction. Wrapped only in a green bed sheet, the diminutive woman told of a brutal attack, one which had left her with a miscarriage and isolated from her community. Looking me straight in the eyes, this proud 42-year-old mother of eight told of how, after this operation, she would once again be "able to stand with other people and praise God".
The men who perpetrated this violence will probably never be brought to justice. But for the brave women we met, at least this operation gives them the opportunity to once again live their lives with dignity.
Further reading October 26, 2004 BBC: Report shows DR Congo rape horror.
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UN says hostages are used as sex slaves and to 'ferry gold'
The following is an extract from a March 7, 2005, Associated Press report in The Star titled "Women and children kill villagers in DRC":
Children as young as eight and women have taken part in militia attacks on villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo's violent Ituri province, killing dozens of people and forcing more than 70 000 from their homes.
UN spokesperson Kemal Saiki said militias suspected of killing nine UN peacekeepers in north-eastern DRC had also taken thousands of people hostage to use as sex slaves and to ferry gold.
Peacekeepers negotiated the release of about 1,500 hostages last month and helped another 3,700 who were kidnapped and later released by an ethnic Lendu militia, said Major Aamer Zahid, a spokesperson for UN troops in the DRC, on Saturday.
Zahid said it was unclear how many hostages were still being held by the militia.
UN peacekeepers killed about 60 militia fighters last week after being fired upon near the village of Loga 30km north of Bunia, the UN said. That marked the largest number of militants killed by UN peacekeepers since 1999.
In the Lendu community, everyone is a fighter
For years, regional Lendu militias have targeted members of the rival Hema tribe. Fighting between their militias has killed more than 50 000 people since 1999, according to UN officials and aid groups.
Dozens have died in raids since December, prompting the UN to send peacekeepers to several areas in the region to provide security. More than 70 000 people are now living in temporary camps in the area.
Villagers in the village of Che - 60km north of Bunia - said on Saturday that children and women were among their attackers in a raid last month in which 18 people died and many homes burnt down.
Saiki said entire Lendu villages customarily attacked their rivals, usually under the cover of pre-dawn darkness.
Many survivors of Lendu raids have remarked that they began with the blow of a bull-horn. Lendu women were usually among those pulling the trigger or looting after the killing was done, Saiki said.
"During the day these women could be at home grinding manioc, and two hours later have a machete or AK-47 blowing you away," Saiki said. "In the Lendu community, everyone is a fighter."
A human rights group in the capital, Kinshasa, is investigating claims by residents in Loga that women and children were among those killed last week by UN peacekeepers.
The Ituri conflict is a bloody sideshow to the DRC's five-year, six-nation war that is said to have killed between 2,7-million and nearly 4-million people, according to aid groups. The war formally ended in 2002, and a transitional government took office a year later but it has struggled to extend its writ to the long-ungoverned east. - Sapa-AP.
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War on Women
"When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion." --Ethiopian proverb
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UN action over DR Congo abuse
Excerpt from a BBC report dated March 18, 2005:
The abuse allegations rocked the UN mission in DR Congo. The UN has fired one employee and suspended six others without pay over allegations of sexual misconduct in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhardt said one other member of the peacekeeping mission in DR Congo had resigned instead of facing disciplinary action. He said action had now been taken against 17 civilian mission staff.
UN peacekeepers have been accused of using food and money to pay girls as young as 12 to have sex with them. The former chief of staff of the DR Congo mission (Monuc), Jacque Grinberg, was among three people cleared of charges.
Allegations of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers in DR Congo started emerging around the eastern town of Bunia in early 2004. About 150 cases were reported. In February, the UN announced that its troops in DR Congo had been ordered not to have sexual relations with Congolese.
About 16,700 UN peacekeepers are deployed in Congo to help secure a peace deal that ended the 1998-2002 war involving half a dozen African nations.