On March 30-31st at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, Congo Global Action Coalition held a conference on the Democratic Republic of the Congo; an effort to bring more awareness and advocate for peace in the this nation. Dr. Denis Kukwege, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Panzi hospital in Bukavu was one of the speakers. In his exchange with the attendees, he noted first that he was there on a purely humanitarian mission to share his experience as a medical doctor working daily with women and girls victims of the long war that the Congolese people continue to endure. Most of his patients claim to have been raped by foreign fighters speaking Kinyarwanda. These armed groups have horrific ways of terrorizing their victims. Some make their victims sit on fire, others shoot or insert objects into the victims’ reproductive organs, and others keep their victims tied to trees and repeatedly rape them in the same position for hours or even days to the point that the survivors have signs of paralysis of hands. The trauma not only effects the victims themselves, but often their husbands and relatives who are forced to watch as their loved ones, be they mother, sister wife, neighbor, endure the pain of rape. As a result, some husbands leave their villages to unknown places to never to return, shamed because of their inadequacy to protect their families. Others show signs of impotence as a result of watching their wives being gang raped. Dr. Denis told a poignant story of a woman who after treatment refused to go back home because she was raped in the presence of her son-in-law. She could not stand to look him in the eye again. She decided to refuse food and died. Many people driven by fear leave their homes and are now internally displaced, leaving the land to their enemies. This method of shaming and disabling women and men, this destruction of dignity and family that ultimately moves them from their land by these insurgents is a cruel and inhuman way to claim new land.
Below is Dr. Denis Mukwege’s Remarks
Ladies, Gentlemen, Honorable Audience,
It is a great honor for me to join in the efforts to show the horror that hundreds of thousands of Congolese women are living for ten years under almost absolute silence. We thank the participants because each one of you have or are one way or the other contributing to break the silence concerning a human drama which is going on in the DR Congo. We can not thank enough the people in charge of this conference « The Holocaust Museum » for having visited us in the Congo, having seen what goes on there, and today permit us to hold this meeting at this place – oh, such a symbolic setting !
History has shown us that we should not have to continue to come after the human catastrophes, but we should develop the mechanism of prevention whatever twisted form the catastrophes come in to distract us. Haven’t we said : Never again !!! And yet, recent history shows us that because of lack of preventive mechanisms, human catastrophes continue. This assertion « never again » should be a living truth every day and wherever we are on this planet. The reason for our presence here is to testify about the daily lives of the Congolese woman who is humiliated, tortured sexually, and abandoned when the work of her torturers, that is, death by AIDS infection and other diseases is finished. It is this picture where sex is used as an arm of warfare on a large scale that we are trying to paint for you in describing the way rape is practiced which is different from traditional rape. And by this, we mean :
-Rape in public
-Rape by many men
-Rape followed by sexual mutilation
-Rape with all sorts of bodily torture
-Sexual slavery
This practice certainly has its direct consequences on the woman, but also on her family (as a wife and on her children) and on her community. The consequences are physical, psychological, economic, social, and I could go on. But the big question which remains is – what is the reason behind these methodical acts which are on the whole so atrocious. Are they simply successive acts of war as we see everywhere in other places ? And can one compare this to the ordinary acts of rape, statutory rape, etc. ? Or is it a strategy of war well structured and planned ? If the latter is the case, that would be even more terrible, and we try to think that this hypothesis could not be true. But the strategy that is carried out, the effects that are produced, give the same consequences on the civilian population as a classic war with guns, i.e., men dying, displaced people, theft, and abandoning lands and wealth to the killers. But in addition to the consequences of humiliating the woman, her femininity is destroyed, and her future as a mother is compromised. It is a war against life itself.
The gravity of this situation is the same as warfare, as evidenced by the very high number of victims and certainly many more have died unknown to us. During the two days that we spend together, it is important that each of us brings their efforts to the movement that will end this blight, to help ensure that the victims get medical treatment, and that we examine ways to end this blight so that it can no longer extend to other places in the world where there will future wars. I thank you.