A high incidence of rape has been one of the grim hallmarks of the Democratic Republic of Congo's ongoing conflict.
The use of sexual violence against women and men, children and the elderly, has led Margot Wallstrom, the UN's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, to describe the DRC as the 'rape capital of the world'.
The attacks are often committed by rebel militia, but the sprawling, ill-disciplined Congolese army (FARDC) has been responsible for some of the worst recent cases.
Working to stamp out sexual violence
Christian Aid partner CBCA (Central Africa Baptist Community) has therefore begun work with the army to try to stamp out this culture of sexual violence.
Since September 2009, CBCA has organised training sessions for 492 senior soldiers on topics including sexual violence.
The sessions are conducted by a Congolese soldier – himself trained for the purpose by the UN peacekeeping force – and include a focus on the penalties for rape, established by the most recent Congolese law on sexual violence.
CBCA is also finding ways to challenge the culture of impunity that means so many cases of sexual violence go unpunished.
organised seminars for judiciary and prison staff to encourage them to apply the 2006 Congolese law on rape.
worked with community leaders to discourage traditional, ‘amicable’ settlements in cases of rape. In such cases, the accused is made to pay compensation to the family of the victim rather than being prosecuted.
provided legal, financial and moral support for women bringing cases against rapists. So far, 40 women have brought cases, resulting in 30 convictions.
To help the victims of rape, CBCA has also:
And in areas where the army's mistreatment of civilians has involved lower-level harassment rather than rape, CBCA has organised reconciliation sessions between FARDC and eastern Congolese communities.
The collective airing of grievances and apologies has led, in the eastern Congo village of Kibati, to the creation of a mixed church choir (pictured above) involving soldiers and civilians.
This has instilled a sense of companionship between the two groups and dramatically reduced the sexual harassment of women by soldiers.
Listen: DRC podcast
Congolese activist Judith Wanga, who was born in the DRC but mainly brought up in England, travelled to the country to make a BBC documentary about the plight of women.
In this interview with Christian Aid communications officer Ally Carnwath, she describes meeting Congolese women who suffered sexual violence and explains why people in Britain have a responsibility to them. Listen to the podcast (4mins 40secs):
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