Victims of Sexual violence in the DRC need more support

A high level UN panel hears first-hand accounts of sexual violence survivors. © MONUSCO/Myriam Asmani“As we heard again and again, there is a deep need and a clear call from victims for much more assistance and reparation,” said Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang.

“The lives they knew have been largely destroyed, and they are suffering greatly – physically, psychologically and materially,” she said. 

The panel convened by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was chaired by Kang, Elisabeth Rehn, former Defence Minister of Finland and Dr. Denis Mukwege, Medical Director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Eastern Congo.

They heard first-hand from the survivors of sexual violence of the effects of the crimes on their lives.

“Their husbands desert them, they are socially ostracized, and often this rejection is compounded for victims who suffer from fistula, victims who become pregnant and bear children as a result of rape, or victims who contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS,” said Kang.

Despite the women’s heart-wrenching ordeals at the hands of their perpetrators, both civilians and armed groups, most of the women who spoke to the panel expressed their determination to rebuild their lives and support their children. But to do so, they said, adequate assistance is needed.

Kang said:” the tremendous needs of the victims are largely unmet, particularly in remote areas.” 

The women listed health care and education for their children and themselves among the highest priorities.

At the same time peace and security especially in the East of the country, particularly, in the Kivus, where armed conflict continues, is a major concern for victims.

 “The women made it clear to us that the destruction must stop before any rebuilding can begin,” said Kang. “And the panel is adding its own voice to this desperate plea for peace and security.”

The fight against impunity and access to justice was also a key issue raised by the victims and other relevant actors. With most of the victims saying they were not in a position to seek justice through the legal system because they could not identify or locate their perpetrators.

The panel also heard of adverse effects of stigmatisation caused by families and communities.  The team met a woman who had been infected with HIV as a result of rape and unknowingly infected her husband.

“When he died, his family threw her and her children out of her own home,” Ms. Kang said. “For this woman, a house where she and her children can live in peace is what she most needs to rebuild her life.”

Public recognition of the harm suffered by victims and support for the survivors, especially from “leaders at every level whose voices have influence,” would help to change the culture that currently shames victims rather than the perpetrators of sexual violence, the panel observed.

The panel worked in consultation with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, and the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children, and will prepare a recommendation report that will be presented to the Congolese Government by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The recommendations are aimed at complementing efforts to promote justice by providing assistance and support to victims, and to advance a national strategy on sexual violence with regard to reparations.

The United Nations General Assembly has defined reparations as consisting of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. The goal is to restore the victim, although of course there is no way to undo entirely and erase the impact of the atrocities that have been committed.  In considering the content of restorative justice, it is clear to the panel that there is not one solution that would work for all victims.  Justice is best served by different responses in different circumstances. 

14 October 2010