Pushing for “Zero Tolerance” on Sexual Violence in DRC

This article was updated at 9:45 EST, February 9th 2010, to fix typographical errors in the text.

The Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC) has been torn by violent conflicts since its
independence from Belgium in 1960. Beginning in 1998, the Second Congo War involved
seven foreign armies, these major actors driven largely by desires for control over
natural resources
, including diamonds, copper, zinc and coltan, these “economic
forces and mineral resources fueling the war”.
A peace accord in 2003 has not prevented sporadic fighting
nor have the international peacekeeping forces been able to prevent rebel
forces from intensifying assaults in the Ituri and North-Kivu provinces of the
country in recent times.

Along with these conflicts has come widespread violence aimed
at the civilian population, especially women.  There is no shortage of reports or data documenting the
abhorrent extent of sexual violence in the DRC. Primarily meant to protect the
population, several reports show that armed forces have been complicit in sexual violence on many levels.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in their 2009 report “Soldiers who rape, commanders who kill” looks
at the inability of the DRC
government, military and judiciary to
stop rape and the complicity of some of these actors in perpetuating sexual
. Similarly, the group Doctors Without Borders (DWB) states, “more than
three quarters of the women that we have treated have been raped by unknown
armed soldiers.”  In 2004, DWB
treated 270 rape victims over the course of the year in North Kivu. Today, they
treat that many victims of rape on average every month. While nearly 54 percent of those affected are ages 19 to 45, a startling 40 percent of victims
are girls under the age of 18. Women are targets working in the fields. Women
are targets walking home. Women are targets virtually everywhere.

Since 1999, the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) has
been on the ground trying to create peace. The UN has recently extended
the MONUC mandate until 31 May 2010, with the next few months specifically
aimed at protecting civilians as well as facilitating the disarmament,
demobilization and reintegration of Congolese armed groups and repatriation and
resettlement of foreign armed groups. For years now, DRC President Joseph
Kabila and MONUC have pushed
a “zero tolerance” policy against sexual violence and misconduct by
the armed forces. This objective
has obviously not been met. The Kimia II military operations (in Swahili and
Lingala, Peace II), which saw MONUC lending support to the DRC army (FARDC), despite
the army being implicated
in grave human rights violations, failing to stop sexual violence. Considered
by UN human rights actors, like Special Rapporteur Philip
to be a “catastrophe” for human rights, Kimia II has been replaced
by the FARDC’s new operation “Amani
” (“Peace Today”) which commenced in January 2010. It can only be hoped
that the renewed MONUC mandate and Amani Leo operations make some progress
towards the “zero tolerance” policy, which has seemed until now, just a policy on paper.

The power of such a
zero tolerance policy, if implemented and effective, cannot be understated. It
is not simply a question of a completely unacceptable situation with regards to
women’s security. Central to the issue is the sheer lawlessness that results
when the armed forces are the perpetrators of violence. Some potentially effective strategies have been proposed to
achieve justice for victims and put an end to sexual violence, including by the
of the UN Senior Adviser and Coordinator on Sexual Violence in the DRC.
strategy talks of combating impunity for cases of sexual violence by
strengthening the judiciary and putting in force the DRC’s 2006 laws on sexual
violence. They also highlight the need to reduce vulnerability and exposure of
women to sexual violence, with more effective responses from security forces
and better vetting to exclude from security forces “individuals who lack

Persistent calls
have been made directly to President Kabila from political leaders in the US
and Europe for an end to the sexual violence. During a visit to Goma, the
capital of North Kivu, in August of last year, Hillary Clinton pushed for “no
impunity for the sexual and gender-based violence”
in her meeting with Kabila, after first
meeting with refugees at the Magunga camp.
In December of last year, commenting on President Kabila’s
declarations against violence, the Swedish European Union Affairs Minister
Cecilia Malmstroem, whose country held the EU presidency until December of last
reiterated “Congolese
authorities are responsible for making sure the policy of zero tolerance is not
merely words, but is also translated into reality”.

This is not an entirely new step. The EU has long been calling for
an end to sexual violence in the DRC, with a
resolution from January 2008
of the European Parliament noting that women in the eastern part of the DRC are
being “
systematically attacked on an
unprecedented scale” with the atrocities against women structured around rape,
gang rape, sexual slavery and murder having “far-reaching consequences
including the physical and psychological destruction of women”. It further
notes that although the DRC Humanitarian Action Plan 2008 reported 32,353 rapes
during 2007, this was probably only a fraction of the total number.

Despite global pressure, reports on the ground are less
hopeful. According to
, enforcement of the zero tolerance
policy “especially of senior commanders, remains effectively non-existent”.
Considered a “lawless
, it is difficult to know what it will take
to put an end to the rapes. Justice is weak in the DRC.
UN Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008) on women and peace and security explicitly call for
an end to sexual violence and demand
the immediate end by all parties to
armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians with immediate
effect. Resolution 1820 specifically states that, among other things, rape and
other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against
humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide. Yet, in practical
terms, on a day to day basis, where can women find refuge?

The complexity of addressing these issues should not be
underestimated. I am writing this piece now in an effort to join other NGOs, UN
agencies and activists from the international community pushing to make sure
that the past years of sexual violence do not remain the norm. I am writing as
a reminder that “zero-tolerance” does not simply mean a reduction in numbers
and must not only be words on paper. The global community MUST watch to ensure
that President Kabila’s commitment to the ELIMINATION of sexual violence is
made real.

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  • crowepps

    How about providing each woman and girl with a .357 and a Doberman?

  • paul-bradford

    Is that supposed to be funny?  Your proposal would take a violent and lawless situation and make it MORE violent and more lawless.


    There needs to be international pressure on the Congo to insist that the military does what it’s supposed to do — protect people (including women and girls). 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • crowepps

    But certainly the problem is never going to go away so long as the projected ‘solutions’ are all about getting one group of men to stop another group of men from raping and victimizing women. Giving the women both social approval and physical means to defend THEMSELVES might change the paradigm.

    Frankly, I find your approval of idea that in a violent and lawless situation, the MILITARY are the ones who should provide the solution, is pretty unrealistic. Police officers are trained to protect people against violence and to enforce the law — the military is pretty much focused on solving problems by killing people.

  • ahunt

    Actually Paul…I think all women should possess the means and will to kill an attacker.


    The lower rates of violent stranger rapes in rural  areas is not merely a product of proximity and sparse population.


    Rural households have large dogs, and there exists a very wise and widespread assumption that country girls know their way around firearms, and have the attitude to use them.I’m down at the target berm regularly.


    Now, re:Congo


    It is not a flip fantasy to wish for these women the power to defend themselves in the moment, to STOP the attack. Unrealistic maybe…but there is nothing flip about it.

  • crowepps

    armed forces have been complicit in sexual violence on many levels. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in their 2009 report “Soldiers who rape, commanders who kill” looks at the inability of the DRC government, military and judiciary to stop rape and the complicity of some of these actors in perpetuating sexual violence. Similarly, the group Doctors Without Borders (DWB) states, “more than three quarters of the women that we have treated have been raped by unknown armed soldiers.”

    Not to mention it’s unlikely that women are going to be interested in having "the military" protect them when it’s armed soldiers that are attacking them.  We haven’t even been successful in getting our own male soldiers to stop attacking our own female soldiers.  Why would anybody think one segment of their military could control another segment?

  • paul-bradford



    The reality of military rape nauseates me as much as it does you.  It’s rampant and widespread and its been going on as long as war has existed.


    Are you serious about guns and dogs?  I don’t think you are.  I think that international pressure is needed.  This isn’t about men stopping men from raping.  It’s about countries where the rule of law is upheld coming to the aid of countries in virtual anarchy.


    Should women have the means to defend themselves?  Of course!  Of course!  But a problem of this magnitude deserves a more comprehensive solution.  Citizens, male or female, ought to be protected by their government.  Where this doesn’t happen, international forces are required.  


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • crowepps

    They’d better send female troops.

     Where this doesn’t happen, international forces are required.

    United Nations troops have been accused of perpetrating rapes in Liberia, Zimbabwe, Haiti and, of course, Congo —


    UN soldiers arrested in DR Congo

    Six Moroccan soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been arrested over sex abuse claims, Moroccan officials say.

    The head of the Moroccan contingent of UN peacekeepers and his deputy have also been relieved of their duties.

    The move follows an inquiry by the UN into repeated allegations that its peacekeepers in DR Congo have sexually exploited and abused women and girls.

    The six were sent as part of a UN force meant to protect civilians.

    Instead it is alleged that the peacekeepers sexually abused Congolese children.



    UN troops accused of ‘systematic’ rape in Sierra Leone
    By Tim Butcher, Africa Correspondent
    (Filed: 17/01/2003)

    Rebels, government troops and United Nations peacekeepers were all guilty of raping women on a systematic scale throughout Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war, a leading international human rights group reported yesterday.

    The mutilation of civilians was a trademark feature of the 10-year civil war, but Human Rights Watch said sexual abuse was much more common in the unstable West African nation.

    "The war in Sierra Leone became infamous for the amputation of hands and arms" Peter Takirambudde, the head of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, said. "Rape may not be visible in the same way, but it is every bit as devastating."

    The 75-page report, We’ll Kill You If You Cry, makes harrowing reading, with accounts of children being forced to rape grandmothers, fathers made to watch daughters being raped and other instances of serious sexual assault.


    U.N. Faces More Accusations of Sexual Misconduct
    Officials Acknowledge ‘Swamp’ of Problems and Pledge Fixes Amid New Allegations in Africa, Haiti
    By Colum Lynch, Washington Post Staff Writer. Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page A22

    UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct by U.N. personnel in Burundi, Haiti, Liberia and elsewhere, which is complicating the organization’s efforts to contain a sexual abuse scandal that has tarnished its Nobel Prize-winning peacekeepers in Congo.

    The allegations indicate that a series of measures the United Nations has taken in recent years have failed to eliminate a culture of sexual permissiveness that has plagued its far-flung peacekeeping operations over the last 12 years.

    Sexual abuse scandals have shadowed the United Nations since the early 1990s, when U.N. peacekeepers in Cambodia were charged with sexually abusing girls. At the time, the U.N.’s top official in Cambodia, Yasushi Akashi, played down the gravity of the allegations, saying, "Boys will be boys."

    Human rights investigators and journalists documented widespread abuses in 2001 in Kosovo and Bosnia, where U.N. police operated brothels and trafficked women from Eastern Europe to engage in prostitution.

  • colleen

     Your proposal would take a violent and lawless situation and make it MORE violent and more lawless.


    So, in your fantasy universe women in the Congo and elsewhere should not be able to defend themselves or their children from rape, gang rape, sexual slavery and murder because doing so would be violent?






    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • crowepps

    The reality of military rape nauseates me as much as it does you.  It’s rampant and widespread and its been going on as long as war has existed.

    Once you train a young man to overcome his natural repugnance and actually kill men, women and children, there isn’t any reason why he should continue to be squeamish about raping them or abusing them, especially if he’s sent far from home among those who are ‘other’.  That’s why sending more male troops will make the problem worse instead of better.


    International pressure?  You’ve got to be kidding.  When has international pressure ever done anything to decrease the rape rate in any other country, including this one?  International pressure can’t even stop outright ‘murder for being female’.

    Turkish police have recovered the body of a 16-year-old girl they say was buried alive by relatives in an "honour" killing carried out as punishment for talking to boys.

    The girl, who has been identified only by the initials MM, was found in a sitting position with her hands tied, in a two-metre hole dug under a chicken pen outside her home in Kahta, in the south-eastern province of Adiyaman.

    The informant told the police she had been killed following a family "council" meeting.

    Her father and grandfather are said to have been arrested and held in custody pending trial. It is unclear whether they have been charged. The girl’s mother was arrested but was later released.

    Media reports said the father had told relatives he was unhappy that his daughter – one of nine children – had male friends. The grandfather is said to have beaten her for having relations with the opposite sex.

    A postmortem examination revealed large amounts of soil in her lungs and stomach, indicating that she had been alive and conscious while being buried. Her body showed no signs of bruising.


  • ramona-vijeyarasa

    For more on addressing abuses by UN peacekeepers, see this report prepared for Refugees International, "Must boys be boys: Ending sexual exploitaiton and abuse by UN peacekeeping missions"




    Mainstreaming gender principles into UN peacekeeping missions

    • DPKO move to hire more male gender advisors to counter-balance the idea that gender issues can only be addressed by women;
    • Donors and others interested in effective peacekeeping and UN reform continue to advocate for increased attention to mainstreaming of gender principles within all UN bodies;
    • UN peacekeeping missions separate the positions of Gender Advisor and Sexual Exploitation Focal Point or personnel involved in conduct and discipline units. If this is not possible, adequate resources,both financial and human, must be allocated to the position;
    • Member states provide more human resources within DPKO Headquarters for gender mainstreaming;
    • Member states actively put forward the names of qualified female candidates for senior management positions;
    • The UN Security Council encourage more female representation in troop-contributing countries;
    • Troop-contributing countries examine their policies for recruiting women in the military and police forces and sending them to peacekeeping missions and send numbers of females proportionate with the national average of women in their security forces;
    • US Department of State insist that the contractors it uses to recruit for civilian police officers provide women for UN peacekeeping missions and, if they fail to do so, discontinue their contracts;
    • The UN deploy key personnel such as Code of Conduct officers, Senior Gender Advisors and investigators of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the early stages of peacekeeping missions.


    Changing attitudes within senior management of UN peacekeeping operations

    • The UN make measures to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse as part of the performance goals for all managers and commanders and rate managerial performance in accordance with the actual implementation of these goals;
    • An independent watchdog organization be set up by humanitarian agencies and donors to monitor actual implementation of UN policies in the field;
    • Any SRSG or senior UN employee who fails to implement measures to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse be removed from his or her position.


    Focusing on civilian personnel

    • The Secretary-General appoint a group of experts to review UN personnel rules and recommend ways to ensure that loopholes that allow civilian personnel to avoid prosecution be tightened;
    • The UN amend Staff Regulations to specifically provide that acts of sexual exploitation and abuse constitute serious misconduct.


    Training within UN peacekeeping missions

    • Training on UN universal mandates such as gender mainstreaming and enforcement of human rights should be mandatory for civilian and military personnel;
    • DPKO must ensure that training on gender concepts and human rights is carried out by bona fide trainers with expertise on the subject matter;
    • Donors fund regional peacekeeping training centers to mainstream gender into all training courses and provide training on sexual exploitation and abuse prevention for troop-contributing countries;
    • DPKO should conduct an evaluation to determine what messages resonate with peacekeepers and the effectiveness of their trainings;
    • Militaries from troop-contributing countries actively work with local women’s groups in their own countries to design culturally appropriate responses to mainstreaming gender and combating sexual exploitation and abuse;
    • Country commanders train their troops using country-specific training modules and verify completion of training in writing to the Force Commander;
    • Military commanders and civilian personnel supervisors follow up and continually emphasize training on sexual exploitation and abuse.


    Improving access to the UN complaint system

    • Public Information directors for UN peacekeeping missions design programs along with local women’s groups to inform and educate the local population regarding sexual exploitation and abuse;
    • Public Information programs in UN Peacekeeping missions communicate the findings of investigations into sexual exploitation and abuse;
    • The UN actively move to protect “whistle-blowers” by strengthening confidentiality rules;
    • The UN install a person focused on coordinating actions towards trafficking in all UN peacekeeping missions.


    Empowering women in the local communities

    • Donors fund income-generation projects and micro-credit schemes aimed at women in post-conflict countries;
    • Donors and designers of DDR programs pay particular attention to the reintegration needs of former female combatants;
    • All donors ensure that programs in post-conflict countries mainstream a gender perspective and encourage women’s empowerment in social, political, and economic activities.