In the brutal conflict in the DRC‚ a glimmer of hope for survivors
“I was at home when armed men came in and killed my husband. They decapitated him and stole all our possessions‚” Congolese mother Mamie says‚ the trauma still clear as she recounts a brutal attack.
As if this wasn’t enough‚ the horrific situation‚ unimaginably‚ got worse.
“I was raped in my home‚ next to my husband’s body‚ in the presence of my children.”
Mamie - whose real identity is being protected - was recounting her story to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Kananga‚ the capital of the Kasai Central province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo‚ in September. MSF runs an operation in the area‚ helping victims of sexual violence with medicinal and psychological care.
In Kananga‚ the levels of violence are staggering.
Between May 2017 and September 2018‚ MSF said it had treated about 2‚600 victims of sexual violence - 80% who reported having been raised by armed men. Thirty-two were men‚ some who reported having been forced under armed threat to rape members of their own community‚ of which 162 were children under the age of 15‚ including 22 under the age of five.
“These figures are an indication of the high level of violence that has persisted throughout the past year‚” said Karel Janssens‚ MSF head of mission in DRC. “The shocking testimonies from survivors that we have heard on a daily basis describe how people’s lives and communities have been torn apart‚ making it very difficult for them to rebuild and move forward.”
Mamie is just one of the victims - and her story one that is‚ scarily‚ echoed among those who were willing to go public with their ordeals.
“It was last year‚ during the violence‚” Mamie continued. “I had five children. They killed three of them. They raped my three oldest girls before killing them. I was left with the two youngest - a 12-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl.”
The three survivors were forced to flee.
“I started walking with my two children through the bush to Tshikapa. I didn’t know where we were going‚ I just started walking. After we got to Tshikapa‚ my children got sick. We were taken in by an organisation that helped us and gave us a little money.
“I decided to return to Kananga‚ where I used to live‚ together with some other women. We took the road hoping to catch a ride with trucks that pass on their way to the city. While on the road‚ before we got to Kananga‚ we were confronted by armed men. Again‚ they raped us. There were three of them‚” she said.
Eventually she found out about the MSF hospital‚ and began receiving treatment. And then she found out about another horrific consequence of her brutal sexual assaults.
“When I got here at the hospital‚ I was given medication and examined by a doctor. That’s how I found out I had HIV. This worries me a lot‚ because I fear I don’t have long to live.”
Another victim‚ identified only as Pitshou‚ recounted how he - and other men in the village were forced to go on a sexual assault spree.
“It happened in August‚ when I returned to my village. Some armed men came to attack us. It was in 2017 I think. I don’t remember well‚ it’s all still very confusing for me. They crossed the river to my village‚ and killed lots of people. I fled along with some other young people. But on the way we were caught by another group of armed men that we ran into‚” he said.
They were then taken back to the village and tortured - they were‚ he said‚ “treated like slaves”.
“We also had to do things more horrible than that - they forced us to rape several of the mothers of our village. When I say ‘mother’‚ it’s a Congolese expression. None of them were my mother but they were the mothers of our village nonetheless. All the young men of the village were forced to do this. If someone didn’t do it‚ they were killed. I don’t remember well‚ but I think I had to do it to six or seven women‚” he said.
Despite this environment of pain and torment‚ there is some hope. The MSF work at the Kananga Provincial Reference Hospital is making a difference - even in the face of victims with deeply physical and psychological wounds.
“MSF teams began providing care to victims of sexual [assault] in May 2017‚ more than one year after the beginning of the crisis in Kasai‚ focusing on surgical activities for trauma patients. In September 2017‚ in response to the evident needs‚ MSF adapted its activities to focus more particularly on treating victims of sexual violence. Promotion at local level has seen patient numbers increase‚ and MSF now provides care to more than 200 patients each month on average‚” MSF told TimesLIVE.
Still‚ challenges exist.
Fransisca Baptista de Silva‚ MSF project coordinator in Kananga‚ said: “Protection for victims‚ whether children or adults‚ and socio-economic assistance remain key challenges‚ given the limited availability of appropriate services.”