DRC 2000: Torture, rape and forced labour

© Chris Click on image for larger version. "I have seen with my own eyes the status of the children when they were arriving at the feeding centres - it was terrible. Some of the children were like skeletons."
In January the Congolese "Mai Mai" militias launched an attack against the town of Shabunda, South Kivu, in an attempt to overthrow the Rwanda backed military controlling the city. As they had fled Shabunda to avoid the fighting, most of the people remained cut off in the bush, victims of forced labour, torture, rape, and even murder. Since then reportedly 2000 women have been raped and used as sexual slaves over several months by the Mai Mai. Traumatized, stigmatised by the population, many of the women contracted sexually transmitted infections during the rape, and some of them were so badly injured that they even required reconstructive surgery. As part of a wider battle for regional supremacy, in June 2000, Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers started fighting in Kisangani, despite ceasefire promises to the United Nations. Reportedly 6,500 bombs were dropped on Kisangani; the intense fighting killed up to 250 civilians and wounded more than a thousand people. In May 2000 heavy shelling between Rwandan and Ugandan troops had already killed at least 27 civilians and wounded 155 civilians. As a result of the insecurity, which forced many people to recurrently flee from their villages and prevented them from cultivating their fields, the health and nutritional status of the population was appalling. A nutritional survey conducted in October 2000 in Kitshanga12, North Kivu, showed a global malnutrition rate of 11,5%, and a severe malnutrition rate of 7,3%. THE STORMING OF SHABUNDA BY THE MAI MAI Guard "It was around ten o'clock. At that time the people from the village were attending a meeting with local authorities. "Suddenly it started to rain, then a lot of gunshots were fired. The Mai Mai entered the village singing. "The people started to run away to the forest, abandoning everything. I was in the centre, at the market, with my second wife when this happened; we fled to the forest, and we spent the night there, traumatized, together with a big part of the population. But my children were not with me; when the Mai Mai entered Shabunda, they were home with my first wife, and they fled with her in another direction. They crossed the river, and they spent one year in the forest, cut off by the Mai Mai before they finally made it to a camp near Bukavu. © Sven Torfinn Click on image for larger version. She was taken as a prisoner, and used as a slave for four months. She was mistreated in all kinds of manners. She was raped by four to ten men every day.
"I haven't seen them since then. As for me, I spent six weeks in the forest, in a little hut I had made out of leaves. When I went back to Shabunda, I found my house completely looted. "My sister also fled to the forest; but as her husband works with the military, he stayed in town with other soldiers. When military activity started in the bush, the Mai Mai approached my sister and told her 'It is your fault if the military is here, it is your husband looking for you!'. She was taken as a prisoner, and used as a slave for four months. She was mistreated in all kinds of manners. She was raped by four to ten men every day. "On the 25th of January the RCD took over Shabunda and the attacks started to be more frequent in the area It was impossible for the people to go out of town. The last fighting in Shabunda town took place in December 2000, at around 2 o'clock in the morning. It was very violent fighting; the Mai Mai faced a bitter defeat - they lost many men in the river. "After Kabila's death, in January 2001, a "standby" period began, during which the population tried harder and harder to look for family members still hiding in the bush. They spread the news that the situation in town was good, and that people from the forest could make it safely back home. My sister left the forest at that period, together with her three children. The one she was still breastfeeding died of malnutrition soon after she came back. In December 2001 my sister fell ill, we don't know exactly what she was suffering from - she was in great pain. She died soon after. "Since then I have never gone back to the forest again, and neither has my wife. We cultivate in our little garden, inside of town, to avoid going to the fields far in the bush. But life is very difficult; as many of my close relatives have died in the last years, mostly due to diseases and lack of health care, I am responsible for all their children - 23 people in total. Sometimes we don't eat anything the whole day. My stomach has become so used to it that I can't eat big quantities of food anymore." Patient/displaced, raped by the Mai Mai (Shabunda) "It was one week after I had given birth to my first baby, in July 2000. I went out to present the baby to my family, and accomplish the traditional purification rituals with them; on the way, I met a group of Mai Mai who asked me where I was going. They told me: 'You're coming out from Y. to spy on us! Women are the first spies in this war'. Then they took my baby and they told me: 'you're going to eat it'. "They tied me up and six men raped me. The maternity sores were not healed yet; with the rape, my flesh just tore, opening from both sides - even now, I cannot control urination or defecation, and both have been coming out from the front. My baby died soon after; I stayed one year and a half in the forest, until February 2001, when the RCD soldiers arrived. "When I arrived in Shabunda, they first sent me to the nutritional centre, so that I could gain some strength again; then I went to the health centre, and they gave me pills, but it had no effect. Now I have to be transferred by MSF plane to Bukavu hospital to be operated on, and I still don't know when this will be possible. "I have no enthusiasm anymore and no self-esteem because of my helplessness in controlling my excrements. I don't even know where my husband is, I haven't seen him again since what has happened to me; but even if I would see him again, what use would it be? I can't even have sexual relations anymore." As many of my close relatives have died in the last years, I am responsible for all their children - 23 people in total
Cook "Human life is not good to see in times of war. War disturbs people psychologically - people are killed for nothing. "I haven't had any news from my husband for more than two years - precisely, since the 17th of January 2000. That day, as the Mai Mai were walking towards Shabunda, I fled to the forest with my children; but my husband stayed in the village - everybody thought that the Mai Mai were government forces, and when they entered Shabunda, my husband became part of the movement. On the 25th of January, the Rwandan military took over Shabunda, and my husband fled with the Mai Mai to the forest. I don't know what has happened to him. "Now I am alone with my two children; in addition, one year ago, the priests gave me four orphans to take care of. The parents of three of the children died of disease - one died of cholera during the outbreak in 1997. The parents of the youngest one, who is seven years old, are cut off on the road north of Shabunda; we don't have any news from them." Patient/held as a sexual slave by the Mai Mai (Shabunda) "I was caught by the Mai Mai with my eleven yearold daughter, in December 2000. As I tried to escape, they gave me lashes of the whip; I still have the scars on my legs. They took me with my daughter to a big Mai Mai camp, where other women were also detained - during two months, the men raped me, one after the other. Then, they forcibly allocated a "husband" to me, of whom I was the slave for three months. "In the camp, we would sometimes spend two days without eating anything; there was no soap, we couldn't wash ourselves - we had lice all over their body. As our clothes had been taken, we were almost naked, with only a piece of cloth to hide our genitals; all the mosquitoes and germs were creeping into the wounds left by the lashes. "We were sleeping on the actual floor, without any mat. The infected wounds and the cold weather provoked rheumatism - now I walk with difficulty. I have contracted a sexually transmitted infection because of the repeated rapes; my periods are not regular anymore, and when I take a bath I have vaginal pains - as if I had burned myself. Fortunately, my daughter was not subjected to violence in the camp; but she fell ill because of the living conditions there." THE SIX DAY WAR IN KISANGANI Driver "I was at home when the war started. Early in the morning we heard gunshots and shellfire in the city. When I went out at eleven o'clock, to pick up my sister's children at school, I saw that an entire house in the neighbourhood had be crushed by a shell - there were at least six dead bodies. At the school, there were no children in the building anymore; so I went back home alone. From then on it was impossible to get out of the house; gunshots and bombing were incessant. "The neighbours also sought refuge in our house - we were around hundred and twenty people hiding there. We stayed six days hiding in the house. We had no food and no water. "On the sixth day a group of Rwandan soldiers knocked at my door looking for a generator. I didn't have one, so they left - they came back three hours later, and this time they pointed their gun at my head. 'Where have you hid the Ugandans?' they asked me. They rummaged through the whole house; we all had to sit down. One of the soldiers had a Chinese grenade in his hand. They looted everything they could find; then they left, saying that they would come back. "The next day we heard on the radio that the war was over. We could finally go out; just beside our house, six to eight shells had fallen. There were many dead - some of them had been buried quickly anywhere, even inside the houses. Fortunately, we found my sister's children again."