From 14 – 17 October 2010, women from 41 countries travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo or DRC) to participate in the Third International Action of the World March of Women as part of a global campaign to end violence against women, and for peace and human security. Million Women Rise (MWR) organised a delegation of British women to take part.
Since hostilities began in the DR Congo more than a decade ago, regional and local proxy wars and conflicts over mineral resources have generated one of the world’s deadliest crises. The eastern part of the DR Congo has been particularly affected by war and has been labeled the “rape capital of the world”, with more than 250,000 cases of reported rapes, nearly one million estimated unreported cases and 93% women reported to be living with domestic violence.
See CONGO – A Common Cause – From London to Bukavu, for information and a trailer about a short documentary film by Shana Mongwanga of Africa Lives! that includes footage taken by the MWR delegation in the DR Congo.
Report of the UK Delegation’s Findings
Through the recommendations from the Million Women Rise UK delegation to the World March of Women’s International Action in the DR Congo we invite the Government of the United Kingdom to demonstrate a political will to end the conflict in the Great Lakes region of Africa, the consequences of which include violence against civilians, particularly sexual violence against women, and millions of refugees. We recommend:
The UK Government should end its support for repressive regimes in the Great Lakes region of Africa
Congolese women spoke about the violence they endure as being the result of wider political conflicts in the Great Lakes region. Support for the Governments of Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda, as they are currently operating, contributes to the violence and instability in the DR Congo, effectively legitimises armed violence and supports militarisation in the region.
The UK Government should support the call for effective inter-Rwandan and inter-Ugandan dialogues
Congolese women from many different political and civil society organisations identified talks between Rwandan and Ugandan armed and political groups as necessary for peace, security, good governance, economic development and stability in eastern DR Congo and the Great Lakes region of Africa.
The UK Government should put forward to the United Nations Sanctions Committee UK-based multinational companies that have broken OECD guidelines
Congolese women identified the root cause of the wars and extreme violence in DR Congo as being the control of its rich mineral resources. Trade and commercial regulations need to be enforced to stop exploitation, illegal profiteering and the use of violence. Multinational companies based in the UK and listed on the London Stock Exchange were named in the 2008 UN Experts’ Report on the exploitation of Congolese natural resources as being in breach of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines.
The UK Government should effectively monitor and evaluate the impact of UK tax payers’ contributions of $1 million a day spent in the DR Congo Time and time again, the MWR delegation heard from Congolese women that money from the international community, including DFID, does not often reach women who have been raped or address the poverty millions are living in, or improve prospects for the future. Money for responses to sexual violence is misused and corruption is widespread, leading to the few gaining riches while nothing changes for the many.
The UK Government should increase its efforts to support institution building that ends impunity for perpetrators of violence against civilians including rape of women Women in the DR Congo spoke repeatedly about the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of violence against women including known war criminals being given commands in the Congolese army. Women spoke about how this impunity legitimises violence as the only way to access power and perpetuates the violence against women. At the Ministry of Justice we heard about what is needed to ensure an effective just system across all of the DR Congo.
It is only by ending war, restoring the rule of law through distributive justice, supporting social transformation and human development that violence against women will be effectively address in the DR Congo.
The 5.4 million people killed, the million women raped and the extreme poverty people endure in DR Congo is well documented. This includes the UN Mapping Report for the DR Congo published in August 2010, DR Congo – Voices of Women for Peace, Justice, Human Rights, Education and Development – Women for Governance in the 21st Century by UK WILPF and COMMON CAUSE UK, Gender Equality & Social Institutions in DR Congo & UK WILPF published in April 2010 and the 2008 UN Experts’ Report on the exploitation of Congolese natural resources. If there’s one thing that can’t be said about DR Congo, it’s that the world didn’t know. It is therefore not our intention to repeat what’s well known and produce a lot of statistics. It is our intention to amplify the voices of Congolese women.
The Third International Action of the World March of Women involved women from 41 countries travelling to the DR Congo, in the Great Lakes regions of Africa to express concrete solidarity with women from all over the world who are struggling against poverty, violence against women, violent masculinity and armed conflicts. Despite various challenges, intimidation and a climate of insecurity, 3,000 women, notably from all over the continent of Africa, participated in the week of activities that took place in Bukavu, east DR Congo.
Many women from the Congolese diaspora communities from all over the world supported this, coming particularly from the UK, USA, Belgium, France, Canada and several African nations. The activities of this global movement included panel discussions, with topics including Peace and Demilitarisation, Common Good and Public Services, Violence Against Women, Women and Work, and a Food Sovereignty Fair. There were visits to affected territories and for the inauguration of Centres for Women. A grove of trees was symbolically planted in Bukavu, a symbol of rebirth and to immortalise all the women victims of war and related attrocities in DR Congo. An estimated 25,000 Congolese women from all over the country, but particularly form the province of South Kivu took part in the final day’s Big March for Peace and Demilitarisation to end Sexual Violence and dehumanisation in the DR Congo.
The MWR UK delegation who attended the World March of Women in Bukavu included Sabrina Qureshi, founder of MWR and member of WILPF, Esther Muloway, Congolese activist and co-founder of COMMON CAUSE UK, the platform for Congolese women in the UK, Marie-Louise Pambu, co-founder of COMMON CAUSE UK and member of WILPF, Marie-Claire Faray-Kele, then Vice President of UK WILPF and member of COMMON CAUSE UK, and Jane Gregory, Vice Chair of Rape Crisis (England and Wales). They received support and solidarity from their respective organisations, from the Women’s Resource Centre, London Feminist Network, the Women and Girls Network, Roshni in Nottingham and the Centre for the Resolution of Conflict in Bradford. Many individual women in the UK, including MPs, academics and UK officials gave their personal backing to the British delegation solidarity visit.
The MWR UK delegation attended meetings with grass roots women across the DR Congo: in Kinshasa, Goma, Bukavu, and Mwenga – talking with women’s rights activists, women representing armed groups, police or the Congolese army and female politicians from various political groups who all had experience of all levels of responsibility from the very local to the international. They took full opportunity to exchange ideas as well as visit local projects that support or empower women. they attended a special workshop with grass roots Congolese women in Kinshasa to discuss many ways in which local women were working in synergy with the Congolese diaspora women in Europe. It was a great opportunity for women to meet and hear from Nicole Bondo Mwaka, a recently released Congolese Human Rights lawyer and women’s rights activist who was unlawfully arrested in Kinshasa by the presidential republican guards and kept in custody for one week.
3. Women resisting intimidation
Women who travelled to the DR Congo for the World March of Women had not been intimidated by the numerous United Nations and international media reports on massive rapes and other human rights violations committed by the armed groups between July and August 2010 in North and South Kivu. These women had not been intimidated by the international media reports of reprisals by militia from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) due to the October announcement of the arrest of their executive secretary in Europe. These women had not been intimidated by the 21 September declaration issued by former rebels of the CNDP and PARECO, now officers of the DRC army (FARDC) and granted amnesty of their appalling crimes which was threatening to renew armed conflicts with weapons and ammunition received from their backers in Europe, hence unleashing another humanitarian catastrophe in South and North Kivu.
4. Panel sessions at the World March of Women’s International Action
During the panel sessions, Congolese women courageously spoke out publicly about the causes of the war, violence against women and poverty, and put forward solutions.
4.1 Peace and Demilitarisation session
In the panel session on Peace and Demilitarisation, it was noted that it was Congolese women who made the effort to bring about unity in the Inter Congolese dialogue of 2001. It was the women who went to all the militias, the warlords and politicians to bring together a Transitional Government. However, women were marginalised by the same men they had brought together and gained only 60 seats out of 600 in Government.
The wealth of DR Congo was discussed. DR Congo has the second biggest river and the second biggest forest in the world. Women said DR Congo does not need aid. It can be a great blessing for the world. We have the Congo basin with food and diamonds. we demand the certification of all minerals. We refuse to be raped and violated for our gold, diamonds and coltan.
A strategy for DR Congo was put forward:
4.2 Common Good and Public Services session
During the Common Good and Public Services panel session, a detailed presentation was made about mining in North Kivu by a Congolese woman from that province. She told the participants that there are very few small scale mines. Most are very large. There are 190 mining sites, 7,400 people work in the industry. There are 16 mining co-operatives.
A large number of sites are not operational. Companies are in conflict with the local communities. Resources are not inexhaustible but also the mining is inefficient and ineffective. Some of the consequences are deforestation and other forms of environmental destruction and high levels of prostitution leading to high rates of HIV.
It’s impossible to get accurate statistics on the amount of raw minerals mined and exported. A number of mines are controlled by armed groups that prevent access to the local authority. 70% of what is mined goes into the hands of the military and other militia groups. Women want it to be in the hands of civil society. Women want the Government to use a regulated system of mining permits and properly resourced mining police.
Women’s demands looked at the environment and the local community:
4.3 Violence Against Women session
In the Violence Against Women panel session, the Congolese women who spoke were very clear about the causes. They identified the exploitation of resources, foreign armies and the UN deal to allow Rwandan refugees into the DR Congo as the main causes of violence against women.
One speaker noted that we have UN Resolution 1325 and a number of other UN Resolutions regarding violence against women. The DR Congo constitution is based on these resolutions. But despite these nice texts, violence against women continues. She observed that violence had become part of the culture as violence had grown in the country with the presence of foreign armies.
Women experience cultural violence and extreme poverty, especially in remote areas where there is no access to health care or services. Women are exploited and worn out and so age prematurely. They are day and night in trucks full of goods, expected to carry heavy loads and stay in the truck at night. Congolese women have not time for education or to educate their children. They have only time for survival. They have lost husbands in the wars; husbands are unemployed or working away from home in the quarries.
Victims are sometimes taken away to the forest and held hostage for $100 to $1,000. There is a culture of rape. Many women live disabled for the rest of their lives. Women are the major economic drivers, when a woman is raped, she is weakened and the whole family is weakened.
It was said that all the resources are deployed for the effect of the violence, not the causes. Solutions put forward included:
4.4 Women and Work session
A portrait of a Congolese woman’s day was presented during the Women and Work panel session:
The powerful speeches and presence of Congolese women was in stark contrast to the images and speeches victimising and objectifying Congolese women we are usually presented with.
Through this global action, the Silence of the dead was broken in the DRC South Kivu territory of Mwenga. Many women were courageous enough to make a long and difficult journey to Mwenga to meet local women survivors of a decade of armed conflict. The attended the inauguration of a memorial built to commemorate as well as honour the courage of 40 women who were tortured and buried alive in Mwenga in 1999 by the RCD armed group supported by the government of Rwanda and AFRIMEX (a UK based multinational company which was found in breach of the OECD guidelines and lacking social corporate responsibility.
This tragedy was ignored in the international media while violence was legitimised by the permanent members of the UN Security Council as the only way to access power as many leaders of armed grups are today in varous positions of power in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region of Africa. However, the local grass roots populations are still fiercely resisting oppression and struggling for their sovereignty.
To reach Mwenga, many Congolese women from various parts of the DR Congo and the diaspora travelled 145KM on virtually impassable roads in rented minibuses, some of which had punctures on the way. These courageous women overcame their fear of human insecurity and made the four hour journey as a gesture of solidarity and to honour their compatriots who were buried alive in 1999 by invading armed forces and RCD rebel groups. Women from all over the world travelled to Mwenga to honour the martyrs as ell as to celebrate the courage of those who are surviving the dramas lived by the populations.
By paying tribute to women of Mwenga, it was a tribute to the courage of all the Congolese women from the two Kivus, Ituri, Maniema, Katanga, Kasai, BasCongo, Bandundu, Equateur and the rest of the DR Congo.
6. Boats, pop stars and violence against women
On the six hour boat trip from Goma to Bukavu, Congolese women from the diaspora and Kinshasa lobbied security guards and disturbed the acclaimed Congolese artist and superstar of African Music Werrason from his comfortable first class space. Their request to see him was granted and they raised his awareness of all forms of discrimination and violence against women in DR Congo, particularly sexual violence, which are crimes in accordance with Articles 14 and 15 of the 2006 DR Congo constitution.
After humbly and attentively listening to the plight and recommendations of the women, Werrason said he took into account all the provided advice and solemnly promised to act upon them as soon as possible. It has since been reported in the Congolese media that Werrason is engaged in raising awareness and working to end sexual violence through an NGO that he has specially created for that aim.
7. At the Ministry for Justice
The UK and Congolese delegation met with local officials and the Minister HE Luzolo Bambi at the DRC Ministry for Justice, discussing with them ways of strengthening state institutions to best ensure the sovereignty of rule of law to end impunity and strengthen justice for peace, social transformation and human development in DR Congo. Officials assured the delegation that the door we were pushing was already open as they were working on human rights, especially violence against women. The causes women had identified at the World March of Women were echoed here: war increased violence against women and also the competition for control of natural resources was a major cause. The creation of chaos and absence of rule of law reduces people psychologically, weakens them, displaces them and makes it easier to illegally exploit the natural resources.
As the law already existed to protect women, the two major challenges were implementation and safety for women to use the law. Reform of the military tribunals to deal with the undisciplined and uncontrolled elements of the military and police were discussed and strengthening of civil tribunals.
Also, crucially the training of more magistrates, there are currently only 3,000. Reparations for women victims of violence were being thought about Where should the money for reparations come from? The Ministries of Defence, Interior or Justice? Or should it be from convicted perpetrators? The opinion was expressed that there is a lot of money around sexual violence from the international community but there is no impact. Sexual violence has become commercialised. Instead of money going to NGOs, perhaps it should go to a reparation fund?
We discussed traditional law and the false idea that sexual violence is tolerated by it and linked ideas of parallel justice for survivors of sexual violence who do not want to report it to the authorities. The key being control and power for the women to choose. Not Western ideas of justice imposed.
8. At the Embassies
A delegation of British, Congolese and US women met with the UK ambassador, HE Neil Wigan, a representative from DFID and the Second Political Secretary in Kinshasa, the capital of the DR Congo.
In 2010, the United Nations Mission in the DRC completed 10 years of its presence without succeeding in ending the violence against the local population, particularly in South and North Kivu and Ituri. It is time for reason, morality and human dignity to prevail: for too long the economic profit of the small wealthy minority has resulted in injustice for the large poor majority in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Therefore, the delegation called on the permanent members of the UN Security Council to demonstrate political will to end armed conflicts in the region, the consequences of which are violence against civilians, particularly sexual violence.
The women put forward the issue of impunity for perpetrators of violence against women, including reforming war criminals giving the perpetrators more equipment and more power, war criminals not being arrested and the dis-empowerment of women since 2006 when it became normal to violate women and so even more difficult for women’s voices to be taken seriously.
The British women particularly raised the case of Afrimex, a British-based multinational implicated in the attrocities at Mwenga, documented in the 2008 UN experts’ report on exploitation of DR Congo’s resources as breaching OECD guidelines.
The importance of talking with women across all the political organisations including those aligned to violent groups was stressed as many women face circumstances in their locality which mean they are forced to take protection from armed groups. The lack of press freedom and the importance of radio in order to communicate with the majority of the population. Also corruption of the Pool Fund monies and lack of effectiveness of DFID monies was a very important issue, especially money not getting to the grass roots women’s organisations. The idea of civil society panels to hear, discuss and debate evaluation reports was strongly suggested. The women demanded that justice and reparations be made to Congolese women and civilians in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region. They highlighted how the global action of the World March of Women is a strong call for demilitarisation of the region and challenges the current paradigm in which the UN military mission, called stabilisation mission, has become permanent.
Women then carried out a ‘Women in Black’ silent vigil in front of the UK embassy highlighting the need for women to be empowered and active to end the war and calling for the end to violence against women and the war for minerals. The demonstration became louder at the USA embassy in the centre of Kinshas.
9. Itinerary and Activities, 9-21 October 2010