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Memo from the Movement of Survivors in the DRC

To His Excellency, Mr. Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

We, members of the National Movement of Survivors of Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, seize the opportunity of 19 June 2020, “International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict”, to denounce, once again this year, femicide, rape, and other atrocious, degrading and despicable acts of violence as well as the human insecurity and fear characterizing the climate of living of the populations of Kasaï-Central, Ituri, North and South Kivu, as well as the whole of the DRCongo. This year again, we wish to denounce the complicity of some of our leaders, as well as the lack of action by the State, abandoning the victims to their sad fate and leaving the perpetrators without trial.

We are Congolese men and women, survivors of sexual violence. We have decided to unite by creating a strong movement to fight effectively and efficiently against rape in the DRCongo. We do advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns in different provinces throughout the country and the objectives of our movement are to create a network of solidarity and collective memory and to bring together the experiences of survivors in the prevention and care of rape and sexual violence. We have decided to raise our voices to speak for ourselves and in our own names. We are thus enabling all survivors to make this crucial plea against sexual violence in DRCongo with a single vision: “a Democratic Republic of Congo without rape and violence against women and in which women’s rights are guaranteed and protected”. We are sending you this text today to claim our rights:

  1. We all realize that Congolese people have been mourning countless atrocities for several decades now. Apart from the systematic destruction of the political entity itself; wars have destroyed everything in their path with immense consequences due to human rights violations. Sexual violence is one of these many human rights violations. Indeed, in conflict areas, women, girls and some men are daily victims of sexual assaults as they go about their daily activities such as going to the field, fetching wood, collecting water, selling or buying products and other activities essential for the survival of their families. Other victims, with a frightening number of babies, are found in their own homes.
  2. However, Article 15 of our country’s constitution stipulates that “the public authorities are responsible for the elimination of sexual violence used as an instrument in the destabilization and displacement of families. International treaties and agreements notwithstanding, any sexual violence committed against any person with the intention to destabilize or to displace a family and to make a whole people disappear is established as a crime against humanity punishable by law”.
  3. Then, Article 16 says that “the individual is sacred. The State has the obligation to respect and protect him/her. All persons have the right to life, physical integrity and to the free development of their personality, while respecting the law, public order, the rights of others and public morality. No one may be held in slavery or in a similar condition. No one may be subject to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. No one may be submitted to forced or compulsory labor”. Yet the deaths continue to be counted by hundreds and thousands throughout the country and particularly in Beni, where we powerlessly observe that the number of deaths is increasing and the victims of sexual violence are added to those who, for more than 20 years, have been living this macabre situation and are the forgotten ones of this wounded society.
  4. It is with bitterness that we deplore the frightening number of victims of violence and crimes committed in this country, crimes against Congolese citizens committed with impunity and detailed in many reports published in recent years, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Mapping Report. This report will soon be 10 years old, but we still cannot count on effective protection of the population (especially women). Nothing has really been put in place by the Congolese authorities and The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), mandated by the United Nations Security Council.
  5. We also condemn a passivity in the care of victims of sexual violence. This care must be comprehensive and must guarantee victims protection. Even today, the fear from the lack of justice and stigmatization prevents victims from breaking the silence towards this attack on our bodies and minds. This destruction of women, the pillar of the family, destroys the whole of Congolese society and prevents communities from having access to peace, from developing and from living in dignity and understanding.
  6. We therefore denounce the international, national, regional and local impunity for the crimes that we continue to experience and all forms of discrimination and violence that have been inflicted on us since 1994, the year that marks the invasion of foreign forces in the DRCongo.

In view of the thousands of women, children, babies and men who are survivors of sexual violence living in this country,

In view of the massive rapes that are being perpetrated on innocent civilians throughout the DRC, we hereby name but a few instances of this violence:

  • Human Rights Watch, in its report of 16 May 2000 entitled “Eastern Congo Ravaged: Killing civilians and Silencing Protest”, listed 115 rapes committed between April and July 1999 in the regions of Katana and Kalehe in South Kivu; cases of rape against women and children were recorded, including on 29 August 1998 in Kasika and on 22 September 1998 in Bukavu.
  • In August 1999 in Sola, there was rape of married women, young girls and even girls aged between 6 and 14, some of whom died.
  • On 23 September 1999, women were raped in Walikale territory.
  • In 2016 the Kamwina Nsapu rebellion raped several women and girls.
  • On the night of 8 to 9 February 2018 in the village of Kabikokole, dozens of women and girls were raped and on the night of 15 to 16 April 2018 in the village of Wamali, others were also raped.                                                                                                                                                                       –… We could go on for a long time, …

Although several priorities are at stake to help our population get out of this situation and to eliminate sexual violence as we move forward :

  1. We demand that justice is served in order to restore peace and dignity to the Congolese people and to ensure the reconciliation of the peoples in the Great Lakes Region.
  2. We recall the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006) on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and Resolutions 1493 (2003), 1596 and 1616 (2005), 1698 (2006), 1768 (2007) and 1771 (2007-2008) on arms embargoes.
  3. We invoke the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1756 (2007) on the situation in DRCongo, which links armed conflict, exploitation of natural resources, multinational companies, and rape and sexual violence against women and girls used as a strategic weapon of war by armed groups.
  4. We refer to United Nations Security Council resolution 1794 (2007), which emphasises that the protection of civilians must be a priority when deciding on the use and capacity of available resources, and which recalls that the United Nations Security Council Mission is mandated to use all necessary means to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.
  5. We refer again to the “Mapping Report” of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, pursuant to Resolution 1794 (2007), concerning serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed between March 1993 and June 2003 on Congolese territory.
  6. We call for the implementation of Article 5 of the Rome Statute, which gives the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with regard to what is defined in Articles 6, 7 and 8.

1) Article 6: On the definition of crimes of genocide (in particular points b, c, d).

2) Article 7: On the definition of crimes against humanity (in particular points (d) on forced displacement, (g), on sexual violence and (h) on persecution and.

3) Article 8: On the definition of war crimes.

It is time for reason, morality and human dignity to prevail over the profit from DRC’s natural resources. The injustice that we experience on a daily basis as victims of human cruelty must come to an end. The blood of innocent people is being shed and will only stop with justice and the restoration of peace.

  1. As Congolese citizens and agents of change, we once again call on our Government to demonstrate the political will to put an end to the armed conflicts in our country, which serves as the cause of violence against women and children. We demand that justice and reparations be restored to us, to Congolese women and to the civilian population of the DRCongo.
  2. The Government of the Republic is invited to officially commemorate 19 June of each year as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.
  3. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is invited to involve the National Movement of Survivors of the DRC in the implementation, evaluation and strengthening of the national strategy against sexual violence and the national policy for gender equality, in order to put an end to the mass and individual rape of women throughout the DRC. This includes systematically inviting survivors to consultations, analysis meetings and events on strategies, and preparing annual progress reports that consider survivor analyses.
  4. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is invited to establish training programmes for judges, police officers and all health professionals who come into contact with victims, in order to accompany them in their dealings and collect evidence respectfully.
  5. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is called upon to ensure that perpetrators of crimes of sexual violence committed in the past or more recently, including within the security forces, and regardless of their ranks, are prosecuted and convicted, including abroad.
  6. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is invited to recognize the status of victim or survivor, including for groups of victims in cases of mass rape, and to provide victims with access to transitional justice mechanisms, including reparations.
  7. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is invited to establish a National Reparations Fund managed and funded by the State for survivors of sexual violence.
  8. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is invited to establish a consolidated and disaggregated statistical data system (including gender and age) on rape and sexual violence: cases reported to the police and judicial authorities, number of complaints, investigations and prosecutions completed, reparations granted, sanctions, convictions, etc.
  9. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is invited to put in place concrete prevention programmes in schools, in its institutions and at all levels so that gender inequality, and hence sexual violence, will no longer be tolerated. These programmes must include women’s rights, but also discussions about masculinity, moving away from the toxic model of masculinity that traps many men in a system of violence, but also rejection of their wives when they have been raped.
  10. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is called upon to take all necessary measures, as a matter of urgency, to ensure the safety of the population in the east of the country in particular, and of the country as a whole. These provisions must include: the disarmament of all militias and the acceleration of the reform and clean-up of the FARDC and the Congolese National Police so that they respect human rights.

Mr. President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, today, as the representative of our Nation, you have inherited a heavy past and are facing a delicate present.

We are fully aware that our demands for institutional reforms of the security and justice sectors represent laborious efforts that will bear fruit only in the long term.

After more than 20 years in fear and impunity, several steps must be taken.

Mr. Head of State, on this road that we would like to travel with you, in the name of all the survivors of sexual violence whose bodies, since 1994, have been the battlefield of these conflicts that are not ours, we ask you for an immediate and free measure, which requires no other means than your own will, and which would symbolize for us the beginning of change: a public and official apology in the name of the Nation,

  1. In order to share our suffering,
  2. In order to acknowledge the failure of the State in its responsibility to protect its population,
  3. By proclaiming that agents of the state who have violated human rights in our country must be removed from office and prosecuted.

 

Revised: Claire Bigand, Brynn Campbell