In the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, the town of Baraka and surrounding areas in South Kivu have been the scene of massive human suffering since the outbreak of war in 1996. Caught in a conflict in which various armed groups - Congolese, Rwandan and Burundian - have been fighting, the civilian population has been subjected to brutal killings, persecution and pillaging that has forced them into a cycle of displacement and extreme hardship. Deprived of access to health care and facing constant food insecurity, the people of Baraka have become an extremely vulnerable population abandoned by the international community.
In August 2002, in a lull in the fighting, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) started to establish hospital services in Baraka during which the team was confronted with another horrific dimension of the war perpetrated by all warring parties against the civilian population - sexual violence.1 Rape and other forms of sexual violence have affected hundreds of women, girls and men of all ages. The true extent and magnitude of this terrible feature of war is only beginning to be seen today with the advances in the peace process in the DRC.
Overwhelmed by the extent of the suffering that is still going on today, MSF started treating victims of sexual violence in an emergency hospital set up in Baraka in July 2003. Between August 2003 and January 2004, more than 550 victims of sexual violence have come for consultations and it is believed that hundreds more are still cut off from help in inaccessible areas.
The medical consequences of sexual violence are many, including increased transmission of HIV/AIDS and serious complications in reproductive health. Fear, nightmares, and psychosomatic body pain are just some of the psychosocial problems experienced by victims of sexual violence. For women, rape often means rejection by their husband and even the community as a whole. Victims of sexual violence feeling isolated and ashamed are forced to find their own way and suffer from socio-economic hardship.
This report by MSF aims to bring greater attention to the terrible medical, psychosocial, and socio-economic consequences of sexual violence in Eastern DRC. It is based on medical data and testimonies collected in MSF's project in Baraka, which is but one location in Eastern Congo that has been scarred by this terrible feature of the war.
With the establishment of Transitional Government in July 2003, major advances have been achieved in the peace process in the DRC, and in many places there has thankfully been a stop to fighting and a decrease in attacks on civilians. The legacy of war and the extent to which sexual violence has occurred, is only just beginning to become apparent.
While the number of new cases of sexual violence may have decreased, the phenomenon is ongoing and the scars on people's lives remain extremely deep.
It is crucial at this time that local, national and international actors take the necessary measures to address impunity and help prevent such acts ever happening again. The stigma of rape victims must be fought so that the victims of sexual violence can regain their livelihoods and their full place in their communities.
Today, at a time when the political situation in the DRC seems to be improving, it is urgent that those responsible put an end to such horrific acts.With impunity still being granted to perpetrators from all armed groups, rape is not going to end.
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"That night, I was at home with my husband and my four children. Suddenly, there was an attack on our village. My husband managed to escape, but I was eight months pregnant. I had no strength to run and my children were with me. I had to protect them and so I couldn't escape. Three armed men entered our house and tore off my clothes, as I remained naked in front of my children. They hit me with the butt of their guns and then raped me - all three of them, in front of my children. I lost consciousness. When my husband came back, he called the neighbours and they took me to the health centre. However, I still suffer from pain in the chest because of the knocks I received and in the vagina, too, inside, I feel something strange, as if it would sudden come out of my body. I am very afraid to have caught diseases and at night I suffer from insomnia. The baby I was carrying at the time of the rape survived, but he is always sick and has constant diarrhoea. Since what happened, my husband insults me every day calling me the wife of the militiamen who raped me and sometimes he doesn't even sleep at home. I have no joy, no peace of mind anymore."
23-year-old woman raped in January 2003