support victims of rape|
in Democratic Republic of Congo
of Churches Feature)
– There is much hope in the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC) that the guns will soon fall silent. But the trail of human
rights abuses the combatants leave behind compels the churches to intervene.
For the civilians it may not matter on which frontline they find themselves,
says Dismas Kyanza, the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) emergency officer
for North Kivu, since all armed groups are committing atrocities.
"There are the local armed groups, international armies, national armed
groups and foreign armies. The national army which is supposed to protect
the civilians is also guilty," Kyanza told an international delegation that
visited eastern DRC from 8 to 15 July on behalf of the World Council of
Churches (WCC). The trip was part of the
series of visits through which small ecumenical teams visit churches in
countries in conflict to listen, learn and show solidarity.
needing help are victims of torture, rape, abductions and displacement or
even murder, the church officials in the DRC say. The churches have been
helping them move beyond their traumatic situations, in some cases providing
material, financial and medical support. They also offer some technical
training in tailoring or weaving as means for long term support.
When rape as a "weapon of war" came into the picture, it prompted church
protests and immediate responses.
"We saw the first case of a woman who had been raped and her organs
mutilated in 1999. We had never seen anything like this before. Other cases
started coming in soon after," explains Bishop Jean-Luc Kuye Ndondo, the
South Kivu president of the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC).
Within 10 years, there have been over 500,000 such cases, according to Dr
Denis Mukwege, the founder of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, which specializes in
treating women and girls who have become victims of sexual violence.
The perpetrators of these crimes seek to cause as much physical and
emotional harm as possible, explains Mukwege, judging by the injuries he has
seen and the reports of how they were inflicted on the victims.
"I think they want to destroy the communities," says Mukwege. "They rape in
the presence of family members and the village communities."
"In Shabunda, armed men raped a pastor's wife in front of her husband and
church members. They then turned on the pastor and molested him in front of
the congregation. That was the end of that congregation," adds the doctor.
Many rape cases remain unreported due to stigma, according to ECC officials.
Those who commit the abuses know that the women cannot submit to genital
Since 2003, the ECC has assisted 23,000 traumatized women through its Centre
for Medical and Psycho-Social Assistance (CAMPS).
"The women arrive at the centre needing psychosocial, medical and material
support," explains CAMPS national coordinator Justin Kabanga. "Some have
arrived pregnant after rape ordeals. Others have gone to the centre having
conceived babies after rape. Many of them have tested positive for HIV."
Kabanga says CAMPS starts by helping the women understand what happened to
them, discussing the consequences of their situations and helping them
re-establish relationships. It reaches out to spouses, families and
communities, urging acceptance of the women and raising awareness that the
victims are not responsible for their situation.
"The children of rape are also rejected. We make the community understand
they are not responsible and they will not be a danger in future," says
Kabanga. "Our main objective is to try to repair the damage done by war."
Although CAMPS has been attempting to ensure those women who speak out get
some justice from the authorities, all too often these efforts remain
"We have been sensitizing soldiers against raping women," explains Kyanza.
"We also ask women to speak out. Sometimes people dare to speak out, and
when they do, the responsible soldiers are arrested to face military
justice. Unfortunately women don't usually come out."
"The trip was one of those life unsettling experiences. It was the kind of
experience that is a challenge to all who go through it, or hear of it, to
do something about the new found information," says Elenora Giddings Ivory,
the WCC programme director for Public Witness. She was part of the Living
Letters delegation that travelled to eastern DRC.
"It is almost incomprehensible what one of God's children can do to another
of God's children, when it comes to the brutalization of women. The word
rape does not go far enough to depict the actions in east Congo," Giddings
Monica Njoroge, who represented the Fellowship of Councils and Churches in
the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA) on the delegation, says
it is very clear that people in the country want peace.
"Observing the suffering of the thousands of Congolese living in camps,
listening to the plight of women and children during conflict, and listening
to the struggles of service providers, the work is cut out for the
Ecumenical family," she says.
Glancing at the mountainous horizons from Bukavu or Goma, the provincial
capitals of South and North Kivu respectively, nothing betrays the hidden
trail of pain that runs through these hills.
But some, like Françoise Bisobere from the northeastern province of Ituri,
have hope in spite of the sufferings.
"In the Ituri war, I lost two children and a leg. While in hospital, my
husband abandoned me. I was helped by the church," she says. "I would like
to help those who are hurt. I encourage them to take courage."
* Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is a
correspondent for Ecumenical News International (ENI).
More stories and photos from the Living Letters visit to the DRC:
victims' doctor says church must be conscience of world
Dr Denis Mukwege's daily work is to treat victims of sexual violence in
eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where armed groups are using rape
as a weapon of war.
At Panzi Hospital in Bukavu town he has successfully treated more than
21,000, sometimes doing more than ten surgeries a day. Many women have
struggled to reach here after being gang-raped. Some have arrived at the
hospital in very bad shape – naked, bleeding and leaking urine. But the
doctor's help has given them a new lease on life.
Meet 54-year-old Dr Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist, the founder of Panzi
Hospital. The son of a Pentecostal pastor has said he studied medicine
to heal the sick people his father assisted through prayer. The first
patients he met were the sick members of his father's congregation.
On 19 July, a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation to eastern DRC
met Mukwege at the hospital, where, apart from treating women, he also
trains nurses, obstetricians and doctors in collaboration with
"I feel bad when I see children, the same age as mine, who have been
raped, and [their bodies] have been destroyed, their rectum and sex
organs mutilated. This has been done by men who just want to destroy.
This affects me as a person," says Mukwege, a father of five children.
He told the delegation that HIV infections and other illnesses were on
the rise, complicating life for poor people who cannot afford health
"When you look at it, and you can see there is no end, you have seen it
for more than 10 years, when you have talked to those who can stop it,
and you hear them talk about other issues, it hurts," he adds.
Mukwege wants the church to speak out strongly on behalf of the victims
"It is nearly ten years since the world started coming here. They see,
they cry. They promise to do something, they go and they forget. That’s
the world," says Mukwege. "When the world keeps quiet, the church cannot
afford to. The church is supposed to be different. If it makes noise, at
the end the world would listen."
In 2008, the doctor won three awards, the Swedish Olof Palme Prize, the
African of the Year award and the UN Human Rights Prize.
expressed in WCC Features do not necessarily reflect WCC policy. This
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