From Cornell International Affairs Review VOL. 5 NO. 2
The Consequences of Rape During Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo
A human rights discourse necessitates the collective healing process essential to overcoming traumatic experiences. It establishes a normative platform from which victims can express their feelings and experiences of psychological trauma, thereby instituting a sense of community around sentiments of shared victimhood. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Committee on the Elimination on the Discrimination Against Women has already improved gender perceptions, however more comprehensive measures need to be taken which do not solely address gender equality.
The UN Security Council Resolution 1820 on Women, Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict has stated that war leads to increased levels of rape and is a serious threat to women's physical integrity and their human rights.53 Additionally, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1960 requires the Council and member states to honor commitments to combat sexual violence and conflict, investigate abuses, and hold perpetrators to account.54
Even though issues surrounding rape have been seriously addressed in multiple conventions and declarations, these seem to be more symbolic judging by the fact that the conflict in the DRC continues to this day. It is not sufficient just to find the right words. Symbolic gestures are not enough. More important is human involvement and a willingness to work with victims of rape in a concrete situation.
After the atrocities in the DRC and Bosnia-Herzegovina (to name only two) it appears to be necessary to demand that a legally more forceful international convention should specifically address the issue of rape as a weapon of war. The UDHR alone is not enough. Furthermore, after 20 years of conflict there is a very small part of the Congolese population who has not come into contact with violence.
The fact that traumatic experiences have proven to have negative effects on the brain, qualify the individual to be equally protected against psychological and physical threats. The example of rape in the DRC should prove that there is a need to establish a fundamental right to psychological well being in the human rights discourse. Martha Nussbaum to this day is one of the few who recognizes psychological well-being as a basic right in her capabilities approach:
Emotions. Being able to have attachments to things and people outside ourselves; to love those who love and care for us, to grieve at their absence; in general, to love, to grieve, to experience longing, gratitude, and justified anger. Not having one's emotional development blighted by fear and anxiety. (Supporting this capability means supporting forms of human association that can be shown to be crucial in their development.)55
Michael L. Penn, Rahel Nardos et al. state in Overcoming Violence Against Women and Girls:
The expectation of reward and the fear of punishment are critical in fueling human development and are major pillars sustaining the social world. It is for this reason that when the laws of a nation are arbitrary, discriminatory, or not upheld, the social order becomes chaotic, and the processes of human individual and collective development are significantly arrested.56
Following a strong human rights discourse, an integrative approach has to deal with the culture of justice in the DRC. Dr. Kaplan explains that bringing the perpetrator to justice can be very helpful in the recovery process.57 Penn and Nardos further explain that the law is so important in society because of the human nature to want to control and avoid helplessness. The principle of justice is the manifestation of this law, which renders the world orderly and predicable. Consequently, it is only in such a world that "organisms can develop their inherent capacities."58
Unfortunately, in countries like the DRC the lack of infrastructure is a serious handicap to an effective legal system. Ultimately the Congolese must take responsibility to establish rules, which prevent the use of rape as an instrument of war. But as we have witnessed in BosniaHerzegovina, international intervention can be necessary to end violence and to set the precedent for legal actions that need to be taken.59
In the case of the DRC international intervention cannot and should not primarily be the use of force. What would be more appropriate is providing the necessary medical facilities and psychological services. In combination with educational efforts to bring individuals of all ages in contact with the ideas of human rights and effective legislation including judicial implementation, an integrative approach could provide a long-term solution. Such an approach is critical to solving the problems surrounding the systematic rape in the Congo.
The Way Forward
Recently, the Financial Times described the DRC as "a vast and failed state [in which] government institutions have been hijacked by a predatory elite with limited authority. Popular discontent is considerable and militias are still large."60 The facts on the ground speak for themselves. There is ample reason for the international community to respond in a situation of massive human rights violations.
It took a long time before Europe and the West intervened in BosniaHerzegovina where systematic rape had also been used as an instrument of war.61 An integrative approach to solving the issue surrounding the mass rape of women in the DRC should include not only Congolese efforts to address the problem of rape but an international response. Whereas major wars between countries seem to be less of a problem, internal conflict such as civil and interethnic war as witnessed in the DRC present a growing concern. Faced with this development in the Balkans and in Africa, the UN, under the leadership of Former Secretary Kofi Annan, developed the concept of a ‘responsibility to protect'62.
The main thrust of this new norm of international law is that national sovereignty must have limits if a government is incapable of preventing massive human rights violations. In such a case the international community should be in a position to intervene in order to stop atrocities. The DRC today is such a case where the international community cannot ignore its responsibility to protect.
The Congolese conflict still claims over 1000 lives every day. The vicious cycle of the mass rape of women in the Congo has reached a point where this conflict can spiral out of control. Pressure on the DRC to stop the human tragedy that is taking place in this country needs to be increased also because according to the International Crisis Group violence could spread and the conflict spill over into the nine neighboring countries.63
This, according to the newspaper, would be "slowing development in the heart of the African continent".64 If the conflict is not addressed soon, it will erode even further the foundation of the Congolese society. The rape of women and the resulting trauma has detrimental multi-generational effects, which need to be solved using an integrative approach. Dr. Mukwege asks the right question: "How can a world that said after the Holocaust "never again" remain indifferent to the plight of these women today?"65
Kaplan, Dr. Claire. interview by author, Charlottesville, VA, November, 29 2011.
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