AFRICA/DR CONGO - In the east of the country: rape as a weapon of war

Thursday, 2 February 2023 pope francis   violence   women  

Kinshasa (Agenzia Fides) - "An action aimed at humiliating and killing a community through singular and sometimes systematic acts perpetrated in this or that village." Thus a report sent to Fides, signed by Fr. Justin Nkunzi, Director of the "Justice and Peace" Commission of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, capital of South Kivu, described since 2007 (see Fides, 29/10/2007) the instrumental use of sexual violence as a weapon of war with the aim of wiping out the local population as a community and persuading them to leave the areas where around 120 different armed groups in the three provinces in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Woman is considered first and foremost as a mother," the report emphasized. "She gives life. She is all that is sacred in African tradition. In such a context, violence against women is seen as a way to destroy an entire community. It is a way of striking at the very heart of the community."
This is a situation has not changed since 2007 (although the crimes have been committed since the 1990s). "In Congolese culture, violence against a woman is violence against one's mother, because she is the one who gives life and raises her children. Rape is planned as a war tactic of war by people who know the local community well. This violence is therefore the indelible sign of a never-ending war, the victims of which are often children, the weakest and most vulnerable," affirmed Father Bernard Ugeux, from Belgium, of the Society of African Missions (also known as the "White Fathers"), to Fides from Bukavu in 2021 (see Fides, 28/12/2021).
Yesterday's meeting of Pope Francis with victims of the conflicts in eastern DRC affected by this strategy that can be called "cultural genocide" is a powerful reminder of this reality that must not be forgotten. "It is above all a war unleashed by an insatiable greed for raw materials and money that fuels a war economy that craves instability and corruption," said the Pope, "What a scandal and what hypocrisy: human beings are becoming raped and killed while the businesses causing violence and death continue to thrive!"
In 2018, the Nobel Peace Prize went to Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Bukavu-born Congolese doctor, activist and Protestant pastor who has been treating women and girls victims of war rape in eastern DRC for decades at Panzi Hospital in the capital of South Kivu.
Dr. Mukwege, pointed out (see Fides, 29/10/2012) how war rapes are weapons used in various conflicts around the world, from the former Yugoslavia to Syria: "I have met Bosnian women and Syrian doctors who have told me about similar rapes."
A peacemaker who, as Pope Francis said, "responds to evil with good, to hatred with love, to division with reconciliation" so as to "transform reality from within rather than destroying it from without." (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 2/1/2023)