“I was raped and then tortured with the rifle barrel”, says Blaise Solange, 14 years old, one of the innocent victims of the conflict opposing the armed factions in North Kivu, the eastern province of Congo bordering with Rwanda. At the end of October government forces and allied militia plundered her village, Bweremana, as they withdrew from the frontline under the pressure of the mortar shots and the rapid offensive performed by General Laurent Nkunda guerrilla rebels.
“I was leaving my school when I was suddenly aggressed by two soldiers from the PARECO group”, Blaise says. Aboard a truck crammed with displaced persons she reached Goma, the capital of the region which is being devastated by the war. There is no record of her parents. After being accepted in the refugee camp of Nusawato, Blaise was hospitalised in extremis and survived a vaginal haemorrhage. Her life was saved by Aliyene Aline, 16 years old, who promptly brought Blaise to a doctor.
“In the refugee camp, together with Blaise, I found other 54 young raped girls aged between 6 and 15 years. So far I have seen at least 400 of them converging by bus to Goma from the different areas plagued by the conflict “, says Aliyene. Last summer she was herself raped at school together with other six children by a group of Nkunda fighters. Presently she volunteers in helping younger victims. In her case the tragedy is double: Because of the rape she got pregnant and, as a result, her family rejected both her and her war-born son. “Sometimes when I look at him I happen to remember the shock I suffered and I feel like throwing him away,” Aliyene says.
Every month dozens of girls made pregnant by warriors are sentenced to an errant life by community banishment. According to ancient customs, women who give birth as a result of sexual violence are deemed unworthy. Those who are rejected are forced to prostitution in order to survive. The act of rape, which represents a unparalleled social plague in Congo, has also became a subtle weapon in the hands of the different fighting factions which are fuelling the ethnic clash between Tutsi, Hutu and Congolese communities. The dishonoured families fall apart. Women refusing to denounce sexual violence to avoid ending up in the street often end up being killed by venereal diseases.
“We try to intervene in time with anti-AIDS prophylaxis within 48 hours. At the beginning of the conflict, in the hospital of Rutshuru we looked after 450 raped women, now only 22 are left. This is because most of them fled from their villages in order to escape from the bullets”, says Claudia Lodesani from Doctors Without Borders.
“To women who live here there is no difference between the colours of the troops, between government forces and rebels. The aggressor could jump out from any corner of the battlefield. Very often even when a woman is raped by a soldier from the regular army she gets no compensation”, unveils Eugene L. Buzake, a lawyer in Goma who assists the victims during their judicial actions against the perpetrators, “this is because the State, which is legally obliged to indemnify her, uses whatever trick to avoid paying,”.
The Resolution 1620, which was adopted last June by the UN Security Council, ordered all parties involved in the conflict to stop violence against women and children. It remained unheeded as did the peace agreement signed last January and the cease-fire requested at the recent Nairobi summit.