Violence against women: A weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Personal testimony by a survivor of atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) highlighted the complexities that survivors of sexual violence face in seeking justice.
The event, Violence Against Women: A Weapon of War was sponsored by Amnesty International Winnipeg (Group 19) and took place on November 21, 2013. University students, library patrons and human rights organization members were among the 13 in attendance.
When addressing complex and unjust issues, “the first step is to be aware and the next step is to do something about it,” said Louise Simbandumwe, organizer of the event and Amnesty International Winnipeg (Group 19) member.
Catherine Biaya, president of Women in Action S.O.S., a human rights organization created by women from the DRC, shared her story of surviving sexual violence.
“It takes a lot of courage to talk about yourself,” she said. “I take the courage to speak because I want to protect those who don’t have the same support network that I have.”
The war in the DRC is economically based, as companies search for minerals, like coltan, which are abundant in the country, said Biaya. Coltan is commonly used in many electronic devices, including laptops and cell phones.
Rapes occur at the hands of government and rebel soldiers and those who have been attacked don’t know whom to trust. “The people who are supposed to protect you are doing the raping,” said Biaya.
Survivors face difficulty in obtaining justice due to high levels of corruption among officials, she said. Strong stigmas towards those who have experienced sexual violence can result in abandonment and rejection by family and friends further deepening the wounds and preventing healing.
“One of the hardest things about this,” said Biaya, “is that there’s no justice. People have impunity.” She said it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem and the lack of progress.
Biaya advocated letter writing as one action people can take to help prevent violence against women and bring perpetrators to justice.
Amnesty International organizes letter writing campaigns to press governments to respond to a human rights concern on selected high-priority cases. Letters of hope and solidarity are sent directly to prisoners or people experiencing human rights violations.
“Let us come together, write letters, support the cause and maybe one day women will live peacefully,” said Biaya.
Ellen Paulley is the communications director for Amnesty International Winnipeg (Group 19)