Ending Rape in DR Congo

Jeffrey Gettleman’s article in today’s New York Times is deeply jarring, but it also reports that some positive developments are being made in the campaign to quell the epidemic of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

European aid agencies are spending tens of millions of dollars building new courthouses and prisons across eastern Congo, in part to punish rapists. Mobile courts are holding rape trials in villages deep in the forest that have not seen a black-robed magistrate since the Belgians ruled the country decades ago.

The American Bar Association opened a legal clinic in January specifically to help rape victims bring their cases to court. So far the work has resulted in eight convictions. Here in Bukavu, one of the biggest cities in the country, a special unit of Congolese police officers has filed 103 rape cases since the beginning of this year, more than any year in recent memory.

In Bunia, a town farther north, rape prosecutions are up 600 percent compared to five years ago. Congolese investigators have even been flown to Europe to learn “CSI”-style forensic techniques. The police have arrested some of the most violent offenders, often young militia men, most likely psychologically traumatized themselves, who have thrust sticks, rocks, knives and assault rifles inside women.

“We’re starting to see results,” said Pernille Ironside, a United Nations official in eastern Congo.

Ending the impunity for rapists in eastern Congo is one of the most important prerequisites to achieving peace in the wartorn region, and the UN has been on the front lines, helping victims come forward and building the judicial structure necessary to end this scourge.

For those of you in DC, UNIFEM-USA is screening the documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo at InterAction on Wednesday, October 22, at 6:30 pm.

And for those of you not in DC, check out Mark’s interview with the filmmaker, Lisa Jackson, below the fold.