Africa: Rape in War As Destructive As Chemical Weapons - Congolese Doctor

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
A woman recovers from rape in a hospital in Goma, DRC. Sexual violence has been used by armed parties on all sides of the conflict.

The use of rape in war is as destructive as the use of chemical weapons, a Congolese doctor said on Tuesday at a global summit on sexual violence in conflict.

Denis Mukwege, who was meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron later in the day, said he had only one message to give: that the international community must establish a red line for the use of rape in war in the same way it had done for the use of chemical weapons.

Mukwege, who runs a hospital for rape victims in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), also suggested a new word should be found to replace "rape" because it did not convey the comprehensive destruction caused by war-time sexual violence.

"It's not only sexual relations without consent. It's an act of destruction. It's an act which results in the negation of the other's humanity, and it's done to not only destroy people, but the community," he said at a session at the summit co-hosted by Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie, special envoy of the U.N. refugee agency.

More than half a million women have been raped in Congo, which one senior U.N. official has described as the rape capital of the world.

Mukwege's Panzi Hospital, which he set up in Bukavu, South Kivu province, in 1999, has helped more than 40,000 girls and women, who have been the victims of some of the most horrendous violence on the planet.

Many have been gang-raped publicly in front of their husbands and children. Sometimes the rapists maim children's and women's genitals by shooting into them or using bayonets.

Mukwege said the first consequence of rape in war was mass displacement.

"You can destroy the demography in the same way as throwing a bomb," Mukwege said, speaking in French.

"A man who sees his wife or his daughter raped and who cannot do anything, these men are the first to leave because they are so humiliated that the only solution is to (run away). After the men leave the women follow with their children."

The violence leaves many women unable to bear children. Others may become infected with HIV.

Rape also destroys families and consequently the social fabric of communities.

"The father will not feel a father anymore because he couldn't protect his wife and daughter. The mother who has been raped will feel stigma and shame. The kids will believe 'my parents were not able to take care of me'. If you destroy the family you destroy the whole community," he added.

The massive scale of sexual violence has led to large number of children born out of rape. These children are often shunned. In a film shown before the panel, Mukwege described the situation as a "ticking time bomb."

He also said food security was being undermined by the mass exodus of people fleeing sexual violence in rural areas of DRC and moving to the comparative safety of towns and cities.

Nearly 150 governments have backed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and the four-day London summit aims to turn these pledges into action.

Earlier this year, U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura referred to it as the "great moral issue of our times.

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