Women from Congo

Goma – Centre Gesome, Synergie des Femmes, September 13, 2008

The conflict in Congo, often referred to as Africa’s World War, has its roots in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. After Tutsi soldiers seized power, ending the genocide, 2 million Hutu Rwandans, many of them perpetrators, poured over the border into Congo (then Zaire). There, Hutu rebels reassembled as the Rassemblement Démocratique pour le Rwanda (RDR). The RDR began conducting cross-border assaults back into Rwanda, targeting survivors of the genocide and carrying out ethnic cleansing against the Tutsi and their ethnic kin in Zaire. In 1996, the Rwandan government and its allies retaliated, attacking the RDR-controlled refugee camps in Zaire. Thus began the First Congo War, and the violence and chaos has only worsened since, raging unabated, leaving nearly 5 million dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Armed groups roam the countryside and patrol the roadways, looting, raping and killing civilians. Sexual violence has been an integral part of the conflict. Tens of thousands of women, from babies to the elderly, have been systematically raped, mutilated and tortured by armed groups on all sides. Despite numerous peace negotiations, democratic elections in 2006, and the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, the violence continues.