Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Mairead Maguire Report from Kinshasa on Rape - full text

Below is the full text of Mairead Maguire's account of her Visit to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with Ann Patterson for launch of Anti-Rape in Conflict (War) Campaign:

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate, Nobel Women’s Initiative.
(8th May – 14th May, 2012)

(Julienne Lusange, Sofepadi, at launch of Stop Rape in conflict Campaign, Kinshasa, DRC. 11th May, 2012).
Invitation and Visit to Kinshasa

On 8th May, 2012, Ann Patterson and I travelled to the Kinshasa, in DRC, to join Yee Htun, Co-ordinator of the Nobel Womens Initiative International Campaign to Stop Rape in Conflict, and help launch the International campaign, to ‘Stop rape in Conflict’. This was being launched simultaneously in four Countries: Colombia, Kenya, Burma and the DRC in May, 2012.

We had been invited to DRC by Julienne Lusenge of SOFEPADI, an NGO Organization working to support survivors of Rape in conflict, to be present at the International Launch of DRC Campaign in Kinshasa on 11th May, 2012. (Julienne is also a member of the Advisory Board of the International Campaign and we had the pleasure of meeting her several times in Europe).

Meetings with President and Others 

During the week we met in the Parliament, with the President of the DRC Parliament. Also the Ministry of Justice officials, the Minister of Gender, and Several other Government officials. We also had meetings with the Canadian Ambassador, and in MONUSCO (UN) headquarters we met with the Heads of the UN’s campaign to Stop Rape and gender violence. We were accompanied to these meetings by several Congolese women, who were themselves survivors of Rape in conflict and also by Julienne Lusenge of SOFEPADI and Josee Ngalula of Fods Pour Les Femmes Congolaises (FFC) who facilitated the meetings. 

President visibly Moved by Women's Stories of Rape 

The meeting with the President of the DRC Parliament was very moving. The President listened closely whilst the two survivors of rape (Mawa and Leoni) told their stories. He was visibly moved when the women said they were raped by armed Government soldiers, and one of the womens daughters (14) was also raped. They asked for compensation and protection from the armed soldiers. The President promised to appoint a lawyer to follow up their cases. The President said war has is roots in conflict in East Congo in mining and minerals, where armed gangs, rebels, foreign groups, are all in conflict, so the problem is deeply complex. However, he said, the Government is looking at ways of how to stop all kinds of violence and bring peace to DRC.

The Campaign ‘Stop Rape in Conflict’ was officially launched at the Carter Centre, in Kinshasa, on 11th May, 2012. Several women from the survivors group, who travelled a very long distance to be present attended, together with many local grass roots activists (at least 50% of attendees were men); foreign diplomats, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs, and the head of MONUSCO, etc.,

Julienne Lusenge's passionate appeal to stop rape

The launch was televised and received excellent press coverage from every news outlet in the DRC. Julienne Lusenge spoke passionately about the need to end rape and sexual violence, about an end to impunity, and she appealed to men to get involved in this important campaign as men are raped too. Julienne said ‘we people of the DRC must stop rape ourselves’. I made an appeal for an end to War, Rape, and all violence, more support for the survivors of Rape, and also more support for the grass roots organizations whose nonviolent work is so necessary. The stories of the two women survivors, who had been raped, moved many of the People in the room to tears. However, it was their dignity and courage which gave hope to us all that this horrific crime of rape can be stopped when enough people speak out and act to put an end to it and Government legislate again this and act on their responsibility to protect their women (and men) against such horrific and criminal abuse by their own Government soldiers, and others. 

The problem with DNA

One of the problems is that when women get pregnant after rape by DRC soldiers, they have no redress. They could be helped if the DRC Government and MONUSCO (UN) made their military, security, etc., accountable for their crime of rape, and this could be done if they held a DNA base for all security personnel. We were advised that MONUSCO do have a DNA base but currently it is not compulsory for their soldiers to comply with this. We believe this should be made compulsory and it would be one important step in protecting the women of DRC and other countries such as Haiti, where reports of rape by UN soldiers in refugee camps have taken place.

 Breaking the Silence Taboo 

Change can come when people have the courage to break the taboo and silence around this crime of rape. Telling their story helps survivors survive, but also helps others become aware that this is happening and act to stop it.
One woman survivor, with great courage and dignity told her story: She said that on lst January, 2010, army soldiers came into their village. They raped her and 50 women and brutalized a further 25 with sticks and weapons. They burned the village and left. She said the women got no medical care. Three days later Soldiers were brought to a Mobile Court and found guilty but they were released after only a few days to rejoin their military units. The soldier who had raped her, who had been charged and released, returned to the village and raped her 14 year old daughter. 

Rape victims deserted and stigmatised

At a Mobile Court, the women got Judgement in their favour but received no papers and as they cannot afford to pay for these papers, then they cannot apply for compensation. However, if they can get the paper stating the Judgement was in their favour they can get Government compensation and go back to their families in the village. They are often abandoned by their husbands after rape, and young unmarried girls are stigmatized and abandoned by their families.  

A Promise from Justice Ministry  

Another woman survivor, who works with a group of 200 survivors, said that none of the group, who had received judgement in their favour, ever got papers. Earlier that week when our delegation met with the Justice Ministry official, he promised they would take up these cases and provide papers for them and that in future papers would be provided free of charge. We considered this a very important commitment by the Justice Ministry and hope they will meet this commitment as soon as possible for the sake of the Survivors.

Dangers of Walking in Open Spaces

One of the women survivors said they have no transport and the villages are completely cut off and if, after rape and abuse women try to walk through the forests they can be attacked and raped again by Soldiers. The woman survivors told us that their villages are often a long way from a hospital, and as they have no one to look after their children they cannot leave them unprotected to go to hospital. She explained women and children suffer extreme trauma and there are few people trained to help them deal with this. 

Men often expel Raped Women from Family Home

After being raped by Government soldiers, men often put the women out of their homes so they have to go to shelters. There are few shelters available and homeless women and children in villages is an increasing daily problem. When asked what the Churches were doing to help, one of the survivors replied ‘they just tell us to pray’. Some people said that they feel the Churches should speak out on issues such as Rape and Sexual violence, but they are silent on the matter.

The Government  promised by Law retribution but because they cannot get paper of Judgement they cannot get retribution (the money would help get them back into family). While some women have started up small business enterprises, sadly many women cannot work because of abuse and several of the survivors appealed for Gynaecologists and Psychologists to come to their villages to help them in their healing and recovery.

Small glimmer of hope 

One of the most hopeful things is that as one man explained ‘ten years ago no one spoke of rape of women (and men) by Government soldiers and others, today it is being acknowledged and legislation and action being put in place to stop this crime of rape and sexual violence'.

There is no doubt that the three pillars of the International campaign to stop rape, - Prevention, Protection and Prosecution - are urgent and vital in the DRC.   But it will take a strong determination and real leadership to eradicate these problems, and also for the International community to see that much more funding is put in place to help DRC get to grips with the roots of this terrible suffering of their people.

Depressed State of Kinshasa

The UN, amongst others, are working in DRC to help stabilize a very volatile and dangerous situation as poverty, violence and war threaten the country. Ten million people live in Kinshasa.  Families are suffering as the Government has little money and most families can only afford one meal every other day! There is no money for teachers and for those lucky enough to attend school, their families have to find the money to pay the teachers. 

Downtown Kinshasa has dirt tracks for roads, and many burnout buildings testify to the violence and fear in these areas. With so many people unemployed and with a currently weak Government, this situation, unless helped, has the potential for more violence. Some people expressed their frustration at MONUSCO (UN) and felt they are not doing enough to help people on the ground, and that so much more could be done by them. 


Several people expressed their frustration as they believed that not enough of the International Aid from both UN Foreign Governments and others, gets to the grass-roots and to the people who are trying to deal with the problems on the ground. Activists also felt there was not enough communication and dialogue between Government/people, national and international NGO. etc., However, we felt we were able to open a very important channel of communication between the national and international NGO and more importantly give the survivors a voice during our presence in the DRC.

Need for Peace

More than anything, the DRC needs peace and an end to war, violence and poverty, the roots of many problems. I hope the International Community will increase its Development Aid to DRC (an important Country in Africa) and particularly focus on supporting local communities many of whom continue to non-violently solve their problems.

Elegance and Grace of Congolese Women

I left the DRC full of hope and inspiration which I got from its people. In spite of facing great challenges they are friendly and welcoming to the stranger and maintain a sense of community and love. My abiding and strongest image is of the elegance and beauty of the Congolese women. Their strong spirits and strength of character even in the face of great hardship, came shining through. I was amazed at the grace with which they moved - tall, unhurried and elegant, their long coloured dresses clinging to their slim bodies. I saw a gentleness and patience, seldom seen in the West where we are often impatient and always in a hurry!.

Men and Boys are Hard Working

In the sweltering heat of the hot sun, the men worked very hard, digging down the deep holes to lay the pipes and build the roads, and the young boys dug up stones to sell to the men, who come along to fill in the pot-holes. Buildings were going up and on the outskirts of Kinshasa, where we stayed, the Palm trees and tropical flowers reminded us of the beauty of the DRC and its people, and its great possibility and potential in this amazingly mineral-rich country on the Equator.


When Ann and I left, we took the people of the DRC in our hearts, and we look forward to returning someday when all violence and war ends, nonviolence has taken deep roots and it amazing people, like Julienne and her family and friends, see their dreams for a peaceful and just DRC comes true.

Mairead Maguire
Contact in DRC: Julienne Lusenge: Fonds pour les Femmes Congolaises: www.ffcrdc.org

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