The Never Ending War

There is a modest rush to bring humanitarian aid to the Eastern
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After weeks of escalating
conflict, during which hundreds of thousands have been displaced,
hundreds more women raped, and many civilians slaughtered, there is now
the possibility that three thousand additional peacekeepers will be
sent to DRC. There have been high-level meetings with militia leader
Nkunda and Presidents Kabila of the Congo and Kagame of neighboring
Rwanda. There is a new element of care and concern.

But why does the world behave as if there is suddenly a new war in the
DRC? For thousands upon thousands of women, the war that began 12 years
ago has never ended. Each day, women have been threatened with rape,
torture, abuse and violation. Many of us have been calling for
intervention on their behalf for years, especially the last two years.
We have spoken at the Security Council, we have met with European
governments, we have pushed the U.S. administration, we have made
countless speeches. We have launched a worldwide campaign: "Stop Raping
our Greatest Resource; Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC". We
have begged, cajoled and pleaded for triple the number of peacekeepers
to protect the women, for an end to impunity, for shining a light on
the connection between the sexual violence and the plundering of
Congo's vast resources my militias and multi-national companies. We
have worked with brave and resilient women and men in the DRC who are
building movements from the ground up to break the silence, demanding
an end to war.

It is acknowledged across the board that the sexual atrocities
perpetrated on women in the DRC are without a doubt the worst
atrocities in the world today. It may seem extreme to call what is
happening a Femicide --- the violence may not fit the exact legal
definition of the Genocide Convention -- but for the women facing such
systematic destruction, targeted precisely and only because they are
women, Femicide is a word whose time has come. The numbers are
appalling. More than a quarter of a million women have been raped in
the last decade. The crimes are shocking: gang rapes; the raping of
three-month-old infants and eighty-year-old women; the dispatching of
militias who have AIDS and other STDs to rape entire villages; women
being held as sex slaves for weeks, months and years; and women being
forced to eat murdered babies.

At Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, over ten women who have been raped and
tortured arrive daily. Their vaginas are ripped apart; for some that
means that their reproductive organs are permanently destroyed. Many
have fistula -- a hole in the wall of tissue between the vagina and the
rectum or the vagina and the bladder. These wounds are most often
inflicted by militias who attack using sticks, knives or guns, or
through the merciless vaginal penetration of mass rape.

What makes it all so appalling is that everyone in power knows what is
happening. On December 10, the founder of Panzi -- Dr. Denis Mukwege --
was awarded the United Nations Prize in the field of Human Rights, an
award which Nelson Mandela and other esteemed leaders have received.
There are Security Council resolutions, dramatic visits by western
Foreign Ministers, increasing news coverage, coalitions of UN agencies,
statements by humanitarian NGO's, 17,000 peacekeepers on the ground,
and yet the sexual violence never ceases.

The missing piece of the analysis is that peace and war have always
been measured in gun blasts. When men take up arms, and other men fight
back, war is declared; when men agree to a ceasefire, the war is said
to have stopped. Now we've come to the point when the world has
recognized that in conflict after conflict, a gruesome, sadistic
dimension has been added to modern-day-war, a widespread strategy
employed by men to achieve their military and political ends: the rape
of civilian women and girls.

All the parties to the war in the DRC may agree in theory that rape is
being used as a 'weapon of war', but when they sit around the
negotiating table and work out the terms that will end the fighting,
they consistently forget to include for discussion just one weapon in
the arsenal: rape. And so sexual violence has continued unabated, never
letting up during the periods of so-called 'peace'.

And it will continue, because although we claim that rape is a weapon,
committing a rape has never constituted a breach of any peace accord.

Enough of the lip service. If rape is a weapon of the Congo's war --
and we know that the threat of rape is a terrorist tactic, causing
communities to flee their homes and farms, causing millions of deaths
by starvation, making rape the single most deadly of all the militias'
weapons --- then treat it with the gravity afforded every other weapon.
Insist that the militias lay down their weapons AND stop their raping.
Until the sexual violence ends, the world has no right to speak of

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