UN boat brings help to Congolese victims of sexual violence

The United Nations Human Rights office handed over the keys to a boat – called a ‘balenière’ - to the women of Songo Mboyo, a remote village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where a mass rape occurred in 2003. The new boat will help improve their lives by enabling the women to more effectively transport their merchandise to local markets.

The boat making an inaugural excursion down the Congo River © OHCHRThis gift “constitutes, undoubtedly, an expression of compassion and solidarity from the international community for the devastated population of Songo Mboyo”, said Thérèse Boluwa as she received the keys to the boat on behalf of the women. Ms. Boluwa is the President of the Association of victims of sexual violence in Songo Mboyo (AMRS), a group the women established to support each other and develop income-generating activities in the years following the mass rapes of more than 100 women in the village.

“I know how much you have suffered, and I applaud you for your courage and determination, which led to an historic judgment in 2005 condemning rape as a crime against humanity,” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a statement read at the ceremony by Jean Luc Marx, her Representative and head of the UN human rights office in the DRC. “You are an example for women who stand up for their rights. Many of you have suffered not only from sexual violence but afterwards from the stigma of sexual violence”.

An estimated 200,000 women have been raped in the DRC during the past 12 years of war in that country. In the first month of 2011, there were 120 new cases of rape reported.

Last year the High Commissioner for Human Rights convened a High-level Panel to hear directly from the victims of sexual violence in DRC about the remedies available to them and their needs. The Panel found that while many measures and programmes are being developed by the government and the United Nations to support victims of sexual violence in their recovery, more could be done. They found that for women in remote areas like Songo Mboyo, urgent needs were largely unmet. Knowing that the women in that village had not received payment for the indemnities awarded to them by the court, the Panel organized the UN effort to build the boat, with the support of UN Women, and gave it to the survivors’ association as a gesture of solidarity.

“Justice is about holding perpetrators accountable, but it is much more than that. Justice must include remedies for victims to help them restore their lives as much as possible and overcome the harm that they have suffered”, said the High Commissioner in her statement at the boat hand-over ceremony.

“Recognising your efforts in regaining your dignity and rebuilding your lives, the Panel wanted to offer you a gesture of solidarity.”

The ceremony to hand over the boat was held in Mbandaka, the capital of the Equateur Province where the village of Songo Mboyo is located in the DRC. It was attended by representatives of the United Nations, human rights organizations and provincial government representatives of the DRC.

The ceremony concluded with the boat making an inaugural excursion down the Congo River with everyone on board.

The report of the High-level Panel will be available on 3 March 2011.

18 February 2011