Take action for women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo
This week we are blogging stories of human rights to commemorate International Human Rights Day, December 10th.
Some of you may have seen the “60 Minutes” program Congo’s Gold that aired November 29, 2009. The story detailed how the selling of “conflict minerals” such as gold are paying for the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With almost five million dead, this war has been described as the deadliest war since WWII.
Amnesty International USA describes this as a ” ‘war against women’ where “women and girls are being raped in great numbers as a means of destroying their families and communities.”
What seems so far away and removed from our lives came to us up close Sunday when Congolese refugee Albert Mulenda Rajabu spoke about his experiences in the DRC at the Write-a-Thon for Human Rights sponsored by Group 49 of Amnesty International USA.
Mr. Rajabu, a former teacher, stoically shared his own story of surviving two civil wars despite arrest and jailing for his human rights work in the DRC. But he wept when he reported incidences of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls. He shared with the room the following story of a survivor’s account of the sexual violence. (Warning: the letter is graphic.)
“As you requested, here is my story:
“It was in August 2008 when I and my children (two daughters, aged 17 and 14, and my 12 year old son) were going to cultivate our field.
“On the way, we were surprised by three gunmen in military uniform. While pointing their guns at us, they commanded us to stop, throw away our tools, and to lie down.
“My son started running, screaming and crying for help. One of the gunmen caught him in his run and hit him in the head with the point of his gun, seriously injuring him.
“It was then they started raping us with atrocity, my daughters and I. One of the gunmen held my son’s face toward us so that he could see us being sexually violated.
“Afterward they left, taking our clothes and leaving us naked. We had to wait for dark to get home.
“We were taken to the nearest health center two miles away but for lack of money the treatment we received was not enough to cure our injuries.
“My 14 year old daughter who had two men on her is till bleeding heavily. My son ran away from home to an unknown destination. My husband divorced me because, according to him, we were left with diseases and have a curse on us.
“Now we are living in such a bad situation that we cannot move from home to continue our daily activities, being afraid following what happened.”
It grieves us to share this letter and we debated long and hard whether to do so. Unfortunately, generalizations about hundreds of women and girls being raped has failed to move enough people to action. Perhaps the voice of this one woman, sent across the ocean, will touch your heart and move you to do at least one small thing to help women and girls in the DRC.
How you can help.
One place to start is to download the AIUSA action packet: No Excuses, No Delay. Protect civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the packet you’ll find some sample letters, including one asking that the President of the DRC ensure the safety of another woman, Justine Masika Bihamba, who has been threatened and her children attacked for her human rights work. She is the coordinator for the women’s human rights organization Synergie des femmes contre les violences sexuelles (SFVS).
At the Write-a-Thon, we sent our appeal for the safety of Justine Masika Bihamba, and on behalf of all civilians in the DRC.
Please spread the word. It is the least that we can do.