NEW YORK – The violence in Congo is unspeakable. But, if the horror of Congo’s recent wars – which have killed more people than any war since World War II – is to end, the unspeakable must be spoken.
Across the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, government soldiers, members of renegade government military units, and myriad militias are gang raping untold thousands of women. They are making sex slaves of some women, branding some victims like cattle, and maiming and mutilating women and girls, some as young as three years old, by destroying their vaginas and other internal organs.
Sometimes, the gunmen force their victims’ fathers, brothers, and husbands to rape them, or the women to eat the flesh of their murdered relatives. Afterward, many of the women find themselves utterly alone as they suffer the physical and psychological effects of trauma and cope with destitution, unwanted pregnancies and children, HIV/AIDS, and ostracism by their loved ones who shun them as “diseased” or “tainted.”
Who are these killers and rapists, these men who have committed appalling crimes for more than a decade with complete impunity? Many are the so-called “genocidaires” who fled from Rwanda into Congo after participating in the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis in 1994. Others are Rwandan rebels and members of Congo’s army. Still others are men and boys recruited and press-ganged into militia units.