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Stories of Congolese torture reported

13 June 2014


On trial: at the end of a court martial of 39 soldiers in Goma, in eastern DRC, last month, two were found guilty of rape, 13 were cleared, and the remainder were convicted of lesser crimes committed in 2012 in North Kivu

On trial: at the end of a court martial of 39 soldiers in Goma, in eastern DRC, last month, two were found guilty of rape, 13 were cleared, and the ...

"SYSTEMATIC" torture of women by security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been described in a new report by the charity Freedom from Torture

The report, Rape as Torture in the DRC: Sexual violence beyond the conflict zone, draws on the stories of 34 Congolese women who have been cared for by Freedom from Torture (FFT), a group that provides clinical services to survivors of torture in the UK, besides lobbying on their behalf.

While sexual violence in the DRC is often seen as a product of the violence and instability in the eastern parts of the country, the 80-page report sets out in detail how perceived enemies of the regime are frequently arrested or abducted, detained, and then almost always raped.

Most of the 34 women were detained because of political activity or being supporters of civil-society groups. Many had been arrested and incarcerated several times.

"They described being beaten or assaulted, including being hit with rifle butts, rubber truncheons and belts; being restrained face down in the back of a truck, kicked or stamped on by soldiers," the report states.

In all but one case, the women were raped, and in more than half the cases they were gang-raped, sometimes by as many as ten men. The survivors also reported assaults to their breasts and genitals, sexual threats, beating, burning, cutting, and stabbing.

Their stories are corroborated by lesions and scars observed by FFT workers, the report says. After their ordeals, all the women experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as "chronic pain and genito-urinary symptom patterns that, while not exclusive to rape, are frequently associated with it".

Six of the women reported acquiring sexually transmitted infections; two have been diagnosed with HIV, attributed to their rape while in detention; and a further two became pregnant after being raped. A handful of the 34 had attempted suicide.

The women's stories are only a small fraction of the wider picture, FFT says. It cared for more than 110 survivors of torture in the DRC in 2013 alone.

The report recommends that the government of DRC allow UN rapporteurs on torture and arbitrary detention into the country to monitor the situation, and that regular inspections of detention facilities be carried out.

It also urges the UN, the African Union, and other nations who give aid to DRC to prioritise torture-prevention, and to widen the scope of their work to include areas outside conflict zones, especially the capital, Kinshasa.

Rape as Torture in the DRC  also calls on the Home Office to update its asylum policy on DRC to include specific mentions of sexual violence as torture against women, and to recognise the risk of torture for women returning to the DRC.


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