There are some interesting facts about the Democratic Republic of Congo:
Despite this, in April 2010, the Secretary General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, described DR Congo as the 'rape capital of the world'.
"A dead rat is worth more than the body of a woman!" exclaimed a distraught young woman in Walikale district to Wallström last month. In her report to the Security Council, Wallström also described communities reeling with shock after the rapes of elderly women, which shattered social taboos. The reality is that eastern DR Congo itself is shattered, with both rebels and government troops preying on civilians - particularly women and girls. In such a context of lawlessness, what can be done? Much has been said about improving the performance of UN peacekeepers who failed to respond to the mass rapes in July and August. Wallström's strategy has been to press for holding militia leaders accountable under international law. She therefore made much of the recent arrests of two rebel commanders, including one on a warrant from the International Criminal Court, calling this an important precedent which gave victims a "glimmer of hope."
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on the participation and protection of women in conflict and peacebuilding, SDDirect showed The Greatest Silence, an award winning film by Lisa F. Jackson at the Barbican, London last month. Resolution 1325 marked the first time that the council addressed the "disproportionate and unique impact" of armed conflict on women. With resolution 1325, the council acknowledged the under-valued and under-utilised contributions that women can make in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, recognising their role as important members of their societies and as agents of change. The resolution marks the first time in international legislation that the importance of "women's equal and full participation in peace and security" has been explicitly emphasised. In 2008, the council followed up its previous commitments by passing resolution 1820 on sexual violence in conflict, recognising this as a threat to international peace and security, demanding that parties to armed conflicts protect women and girls from sexual violence and insisting that measures are taken to prosecute perpetrators.
Jackson was motivated to make the The Greatest Silence to tell "the female vocabulary of war". She remarked that "so much of what we know of war, is from a male point of view... women are integral... their suffering destabilises families, and society, and that's what [UN Security Council] resolution 1820 has finally recognised." The personal testimonies in the film were horrific, haunting recollections from a four-year-old girl's to sick elderly women of rape often using guns and knives. When Jackson was asked how she managed to get such personal stories from so many women she replied, "I shared my story with them - it was important to allow the women to follow my journey." Perhaps the most poignant reflection of the night was Jackson's acknowledgement of our own complicity: "It's a resource war - it's an economic war - it's about exporting minerals such as coltan to Europe and American markets. Coltan is in all of our mobile phones. We are all complicit in financing the conflict. It's not about Africans doing medieval things to each other. Sadly, this is not at the forefront of the coverage."
"It's a resource war - it's an economic war. It's not about Africans doing medieval things to each other. Sadly, this is not at the forefront of the coverage."
The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) is the primary remnant Rwandan rebel group in the east of the DR Congo, and they have been responsible for much of the widespread displacement in the country's eastern provinces, and for many of the most brutal rapes. According to a BBC report from last year, there remains regular communication between fighters on the ground and leaders in the diaspora, and so the tentacles of conflict extend beyond 'the heart of darkness'. But it is in darkness that tens of thousands of women and girls are living in the Congo. The FDLR's president, Ignace Murwanashyaka, lives in Mannheim in Germany. He was arrested in November 2009 and charged with being a leader of a terrorist organisation, of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Peter Greste of the BBC has interviewed serving and former FDLR officials, all of whom assert that he is the ideological and political force behind the movement, he is its supreme military commander. According to these officials, President Murwanashyaka is their "military leader" in the same way that President Obama is the "commander-in-chief of the US armed forces". Another blow was dealt to the FDLR earlier this month with the arrest in France of the FDLR Executive Secretary. The impact of these arrests are yet to be felt in the Congo and, as yet, no action has been taken against the government forces that are also responsible for raping hundreds of girls and women.
The UK is a permanent member of the Security Council and so bears a particular responsibility to implement its resolutions. SDDirect has launched a campaign to call upon the UK Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon William Hague MP to implement UNSC resolutions 1325 and 1820. Please support the petition by clicking on the widget on our home page or go to Change.org/Women's Rights - Stop the rape in the Congo to be a part of this campaign.
The women and girls of the DR Congo can wait no longer.
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