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“The testimonies given by the women in the articles are sometime shocking, often moving, but most importantly, they give a human face to an issue that [doesn’t get enough] coverage” said Victor Sulubika, executive director at Vision Gram-International, a Congolese NGO working for women and children victims of the war in the Great Lakes region.
“The media has a duty to witness crimes and provide proof through their reports so that leaders can act upon them. After reports such as those of IWPR, it is not possible for the international community to say ‘we did not know’. ”
The four articles contained in IWPR’s special report, which was published in mid-October, highlighted the worrying scale of sexual violence in Congo, where rape is used by militias as a weapon against different ethnic groups.
As a result of long-term stability in DRC, which has been plagued by civil war throughout its history, sexual violence is widespread.
Most rapes go unreported as victims are afraid of reprisals, shame and rejection from their community.
Many crimes of sexual violence are going unpunished, despite the terrible psychological impact rape has on victims.
Human rights groups have criticised International Criminal Court, ICC, prosecutors for failing to bring sexual violence charges against some indictees in spite of there being, they say, much evidence to support them.
As perpetrators remain unpunished by both the national judiciary and the ICC, observers say the climate of impunity encourages the spread of rape and other crimes in the country.
The IWPR sexual violence series was written to consider the devastating effect that widespread rape is having on DRC.
In their piece Hague Court Considers Bolstering Local Judiciary, Lisa Clifford and Charles Ntityica highlighted the many problems facing women who have been raped in Congo.
“Women young and old, even babies, are raped by militiamen, soldiers, policemen and civilians every day [in DRC]. There are hundreds of thousands of victims, though exact numbers are unclear as most women don’t ever report an assault. The near defunct judicial system means there’s little point,” said the authors.
The article also cited “frequent and pervasive political and military interference in court cases”, as being a major obstacle to further cooperation between the ICC and the national judiciary in prosecuting rape cases.
In Katy Glassborow’s report Investigative Strategy under Fire, former ICC investigators said that they were pressed for time during investigations, which led to certain crimes being overlooked.
“We didn’t have sufficient time to do the preliminary collection of information,” Martin Witteveen, who worked as an ICC investigator in Uganda, said in Glassborow’s report.
The former investigator said that he believes the ICC “should have done better on the thematic charges [for systematic crimes committed by the LRA throughout the conflict] like sexual crimes and use of child soldiers” in its investigations in Uganda.
In her feature, No Sign of End to Epidemic, IWPR contributor Katharina Goetze looked at the scale of the problem of sexual violence in DRC. Nearly 40,000 victims of the crime were treated in medical centres belonging to the United Nations and its partners last year, she wrote.
In the final piece of the series, Militias Seen as Main Perpetrators, IWPR editor Peter Eichstaedt wrote that armed groups in eastern Congo were linked an upsurge in rape cases in the country.
Observers in the region said that the IWPR series helped inform the people of Congo about their human rights, and also alerted the international community to the serious problem of widespread rape.
“Often, women do not even know their rights or about the existence of the international court. We need articles like those of IWPR to educate the population and draw the attention of the global community,” said Christine Karumba, of the NGO Women for Women which cares for female victims of rape.
Descartes Malasi, a human rights activist, said that he had disseminated the IWPR articles to help inform the population about the “new, worrying” phenomenon of sexual violence in DRC.
“In 2002/2003 we thought that sexual violence was simply a deed of armed groups, but now rapes by civilians are becoming increasingly common,” he said.
“We used the IWPR articles to inform the population, but the ICC should also do more prevention.”
Justine Masika of the Congolese NGO Synergie, which looks after victims of sexual violence, said that the IWPR articles had highlighted the main problems which groups like hers encounter when trying to gather evidence for national prosecutions.
“We need proof and often victims do not even remember dates, let alone their aggressors’ identities,” she explained.
Desire-Israel Kazadi, journalist at Le Phare, a Kinshasa based newspaper, said that the newspaper had republished some of the IWPR articles, which provided the kind of in-depth reporting that the Congolese media is unable to generate.
“Congolese are interested in understanding what is going on, but we lack the means to provide deep analysis like the IWPR. It is dangerous for journalists here, so we provide more factual articles,” said the journalist.
International observers also praised the thoroughness of the articles.
“This information [they contain] is extraordinarily helpful in providing a comprehensive knowledge and understanding about the serious crimes being committed,” said Susanne Achilles, the second secretary of legal and social services at the German embassy in The Hague.
She added that she was especially struck by Eichstaedt’s piece on the widespread sexual violence committed by armed militias.
“[The article provided] detailed information that helped [the reader] to understand the mechanism of abuse and violence in DRC, and the links between the main perpetrators,” said Achilles.
Evelyn Kiapi, a Ugandan journalist currently based in the UK, said that Glassborow’s piece touched on issues that affect women not only in the DRC, but also in Uganda and the rest of Africa.
“The article raised a lot of issues about justice for women and gender-based crimes,” she said.
She added that thousands of women in northern Uganda have been raped by members of the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA. Few – if any – have received justice for those crimes, she said.
“I think in Africa, laws do not favour women,” said Kiapi.
Because of this, she added, it is especially important for the ICC to focus on sexual violence during their investigations.
Rachel Irwin, an IWPR intern in The Hague, contributed to this report.
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