The Greatest Silence: Rape in Congo

16 Jun

I just watched a HBO film, ‘The Greatest Silence: Rape in Congo’ by the director, Lisa F. Jackson which documents the widespread perpetuation of sexual violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Made in 2006, the documentary contains face to face interviews with the female survivors of rape. Their moving stories are interwoven with inspiring accounts of those who work in the forefront against such violence – activists and hospital doctors who relate the extent and trauma of such acts against these women and their society.

Rape which has been engaged as a weapon in war is nothing new though we may have just begin to understand the suffering and related issues it has caused. Women who survived such violence are not only psychologically traumatised, but are often physically mutilated, exposed to HIV/ AIDS as well as face discrimination from their own families.

As the director mentioned in her statement on the motivation for making this film,

‘Several dozen women and girls spoke to me with surprising openness about their experiences, their nightmares and dreams. Their stories need to be told and, more importantly, they need to be the ones doing the telling, which is another important goal of the film: to explore, witness and contribute to these women’s healing through the empowerment of personal narrative.

By bringing these women out of the shadows, the film will be a catalyst in focusing world attention on their plight, bringing opprobrium upon those in power who turn their backs, and sparking conversations and policy change concerning the fate of women and girls in a world consumed by armed conflict.’

Such violence in DRC have not declined in recent years despite the attention from international human rights group such as Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to the same organisation press release in April, at least 90 women have been raped in the volatile North and South Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by Rwandan rebel forces, government army soldiers, and their allies since the start of this year.

In a 2005 report, ‘Seeking Justice: The Prosecution of Sexual Violence in the Congo War’, HRW also documented the extent of such violence:

During five years of armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, or Congo), tens of thousands of women and girls1 were raped or otherwise subjected to sexual violence. Victims whose cases Human Rights Watch documented were as young as three years old. In a number of cases men and boys were also raped or sexually assaulted. The World Health Organization investigated the incidence of rape in the two provinces of South Kivu and Maniema and in the two cities of Goma (North Kivu province) and Kalémie (Katanga province) and concluded that some forty thousand persons had been raped [emphasis mine].


… fighters of the former rebel movements, the RCD-Goma, the MLC, and RCD-ML, and soldiers of the former national army, the FAC, now all supposedly part of an integrated Congolese army. Perpetrators also include combatants of local armed groups, Mai Mai (groups resisting outside control), Burundian and Rwandan Hutu armed groups, and the ethnically-based UPC and FNI based in Ituri. Civilian and military judicial authorities and leaders of armed groups rarely punished perpetrators of these crimes. On occasion military commanders and the heads of armed groups seem to have encouraged the use of sexual violence as a way to terrorize civilians [emphasis mine].

While rape has been considered a war crime dating back to customary laws and the Geneva convention of 1949, the UN Security Council passed a resolution 1820 last year which endorsed the position that ‘sexual violence in conflict zones is a matter of international peace and security’.

This view takes into consideration that:

… The systemic use of rape on communities emotionally, physically and financially damages both the individuals and these communities for years to come. They feed anger, vengeance and distrust and so fuel continued cycles of conflict, displacement and refugee flows…


2 Responses to “The Greatest Silence: Rape in Congo”

  1. pakistancrimes June 16, 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    Rape is comparatively less in Islamic countries like Pakistan but they face terrorism and extremism .

  2. Paul T July 3, 2009 at 11:37 am #

    MJPC blames the Congolese Government for the Deteriorating Situation in East Congo(DRC)

    “There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in lawless eastern Congo for six months”

    Following the deteriorating situation in east Congo, the MJPC called today for the Congolese Government to urgently pay the salaries to thousands of soldiers who have not been paid for over six months in eastern Congo, take swift action to enforce the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) warrant against Bosco Ntaganda and to hold accountable perpetrators of sexual violence against women for their acts.

    “Failing to hold accountable individuals who commit war crimes and crimes against humunity continues to be the leading cause of widespread and systematic sexual violence acts against girls and women in the easten Congo” said Makuba Sekombo, Community Affairs Director of the Mobilization for Justice and Peace in the DR Congo (MJPC).

    Mr. Sekombo again criticized the government of Congo for not only the continuing failure to protect women and young girls from sexual violence, but also for “encouraging conditions that create opportunities for sexual violence to occur”. “There is no excuse for missing to pay salaries to soldiers in the lawless eastern Congo for six months” said Sekombo. The MJPC has also renewed its call for the Congolese government to take urgent needed action to end human rights abuses in east Congo, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure reparation for the victims of sexual violence.

    The MJPC has been urging the Congolese government to compensate the victims of sexual violence in order to also help combat impunity in eastern part of Congo where sexual violence against women and children has been widely used as weapon of war for more than decade. The MJPC online petition calling for help to put pressure on Congolese Government to compensate victims of sexual siolence in Eastern DRC can be signed at

    About MJPC
    MJPC works to add a voice in advocating for justice and peace in the DRC particulary in the east of DRC where thousands innocent civilian including children and women continue to suffer massive human rights violations while armed groups responsible for these crimes go unpunished

    For more information about the MJPC and its activities, visit or call Makuba Sekombo @ 1-408-8063-644 or e-mail: The online petition calling on the Congolese Government to put urgently in place a comprehensive program of compensation for the victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo can be signed at

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