RESEARCH exposing the brutality of sexual violence experienced by women caught up in the conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) has been published in a report from Tearfund this week, as Pope Francis visited the country and called for peace between Muslims and Christians.
The report, To Make Our Voices Heard: Listening to survivors of sexual violence in Central African Republic, was based on interviews with victims of sexual violence, all of whom told how violence was used against them as part of the wider conflict. Many were gang-raped, and their husbands and children were murdered in front of them.
Victims of sexual violence are shunned by their families and communities. All of the victims who spoke to Tearfund spoke of feeling shame and stigma as a result of the attacks. One said: “It is difficult to talk about these experiences because it is shameful and dehumanises you as a human being. . . Finally I disclosed it to my husband, who became very angry and left me.”
The President of the Evangelical Alliance in the CAR, the Revd Nicolas Guerekoyamé-Gbangou, said in Tearfund’s report: “Our country is in a time of war, and the first victims of this war are women.”
Fifteen allegations of sexual violence have also emerged against UN peacekeeping troops in the CAR.
The CAR has experienced decades of conflict since its independence from France in 1960. The current crisis was sparked in 2013, when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power. A largely Christian militia calling itself the Anti-balaka then began widespread reprisals against Muslim civilians (News, 13 December, 8 November 2013). Thousands of civilians — Muslim and Christian — have been killed in the ongoing conflict.
The Pope’s visit this week, as part of a three-nation tour of Africa, included a visit to a mosque in the capital, Bangui. There, he told worshippers that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.”
About half of the CAR’s population are Christian, and 15 per cent are Muslim.
Tearfund’s report seeks to break the silence that surrounds sexual violence. It includes a call to Christian and Muslim faith leaders to work together to show leadership, and speak out against the values and attitudes that sexual and gender-based violence are rooted in, including where faith teachings have justified or condoned these. It also calls on them to give public support to survivors of sexual violence.
The President of the CAR Islamic Community and a member of the Interfaith Platform, Imam Omar Kabine Layama, said: “We religious leaders must unify our strength to fight against sexual violence, and to educate our congregations in the mosques and churches to prevent sexual violence.”
Children in need. UNICEF has estimated that 1.2 million children are now in need of urgent humanitarian assistance because of the conflict in the CAR. Forty-one per cent of children under five are chronically malnourished, and one third of the population have no access to safe drinking water. Its fund-raising appeal to help the most vulnerable communities has raised only half of the money needed.