DRC: Words alone will not put an end to sexual violence

Kinshasa/Nairobi/Amsterdam - The international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today expressed its serious concern about continued sexual violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a phenomenon that is being perpetuated by ongoing insecurity. One year after a peace agreement was signed to put an end to the war in DRC, MSF continues to see victims of rape in its clinics. In Baraka, a town in South Kivu province, MSF doctors have treated over 600 victims of sexual violence since August 2003. In spite of recent public statements condemning rape, the people responsible for ending this horrific feature of war still have not put words into action to stop these crimes repeatedly happening and prevent the impunity of perpetrators. According to MSF, violence in many parts of the DRC has not stopped and the humanitarian situation is still appalling. In a report released today, entitled "I have no joy, no peace of mind", MSF describes the terrible medical, psychosocial and socio-economic consequences of sexual violence in the DRC and the use of rape - against both women and men - as a weapon of war. The report is based on medical data and stories of rape victims treated by MSF in a clinic in Baraka, although the phenomenon is widespread in many places in DRC. The youngest person treated by MSF was a 4-year old girl and the oldest a woman of 70, who was raped by three men in front of her children. The medical consequences of sexual violence include an increased risk of HIV/AIDS, physical injuries and serious complications in reproductive health. The women suffer from fear and nightmares, and often face isolation in their communities and rejection by their husbands. After years of neglect the issue of sexual violence is now finally on the political agenda in DRC. The response so far, however, falls short of what is necessary given the overwhelming number of rape cases. More help is needed for the countless victims. Key priorities are a national protocol on sexual violence and the integration of medical treatment for victims in the reconstruction of health services in the DRC. According to MSF Representative Maria Jose Mora: "The impunity of the perpetrators of sexual violence is unacceptable and to a large extent the reason why sexual violence continues today in DRC. Political actors have made welcome statements condemning rape and committing themselves to bring those guilty to justice. However, until now, these have been rhetorical words that do not match the reality of those victims we see daily in our work." Each armed group is blaming the other for the problem. Yet, from what MSF has learnt, all are responsible. MSF is urging all leaders in DRC to turn words into action to end impunity. This will only happen with greater pressure and assistance from the international community. Footnote: 1 - Active in the DRC since 1981, MSF is today providing medical aid in eight of the country's ten provinces and in the capital Kinshasa. The DRC mission includes basic health care and responding to epidemics and is one of MSF's largest worldwide.