Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 20, 2014. Addressing sexual and gender-based violence—a defining feature of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo—is critical to the success of Congo’s peace process, argues a new Enough Project report released today. The report, “Interrupting the Silence: Addressing Congo’s Sexual Violence Crisis within the Great Lakes Regional Peace Process,” urges U.S. and U.N. policymakers to integrate tools to end sexual and gender-based violence and to address the links between sexual violence, and the economic and political drivers of war in Congo’s peace process.
In the Congo, sexual and gender-based violence, or SGBV, is a tool of war, committed often in tandem with other human rights violations, including land grabs, illicit minerals trading, and forced displacement. Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used to instill fear, distrust, and shame and manipulate group psychologies, which in turn weaken community networks, and undermine the protection of women and children. Discourse on SGBV in the context of war has long been isolated from topics of conflict economics and security in Congo. Additionally, the lack of reliable statistics on SGBV in Congo has hindered a holistic understanding of the problem, despite increased international attention in the past several years. New research, however, highlights its inextricable links with the conflict as a whole and affirm the scale and severity of the problem and its impact on Congolese society.
Holly Dranginis, Enough Project Policy Associate and author of the report, says:
“Women are still being raped in Congo at very high rates, and severe stigma maintains its grasp on survivors. Perpetrators are getting away with these crimes. Congo’s peace process, with its renewed momentum and unprecedented international support, presents an opportunity to stop this horror. We need practical policy changes to protect women and girls and sophisticated, high-level prosecutions to send a clear message that those who use rape to exert power and control will not go unpunished.”
“Interrupting the Silence” warns that the exclusion of SGBV and women’s empowerment in the greater peace process could undermine the development of a truly peaceful post-conflict society. To combat this, the report recommends that international and regional stakeholders emphasize the empowerment and inclusion of women within the peace agenda, including:
Decision-making opportunities in the the Great Lakes Women’s Platform, launched by U.N. Special Envoy Mary Robinson last month;
Assisting in the establishment of a mixed chamber to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, including SGBV; and
Integrating a gendered perspective into security sector reform and DDR programs.
The continued transformation of eastern Congo’s minerals sector, particularly gold, into a formalized, conflict-free trade would also combat sexual violence by providing economic opportunities for women and pushing armed groups out of mines they often control by committing rape, sexual torture, and enslavement against civilians.
John Prendergast, Enough Project Co-Founder, says:
“Sexual violence is a tool of social control and terror. It is impossible to separate as its own crisis isolated from rebel offensives, illicit minerals trading, and security sector reform. For high-level policymakers to drive an effective peace process, sexual violence must be addressed alongside these more traditional economic and political challenges and with the same urgency and commitment.”