The Hidden Victims of Wartime Rape

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Rapes Are Again Reported in Eastern Congo By JEFFREY GETTELMAN 

New York Times:  February 25, 2011

 

GOMA, Congo — It was around 11 p.m. when armed men burst into Kazungu Ziwa’s hut, put a machete to his throat and yanked down his pants. Mr. Ziwa is a tiny man, about four feet, six inches tall. He tried to fight back, but said he was quickly beaten down.

 

For years, eastern Congo has been a reservoir of atrocities.

 

“Then they raped me,” he said. “It was horrible, physically. I was dizzy. My thoughts just left me.”

 

For years, the thickly forested hills and clear, deep lakes of eastern Congo have been a reservoir of atrocities. Now, it seems, there is another growing problem: men raping men.

 

According to Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, United Nations officials and several Congolese aid organizations, the number of men who have been raped has risen sharply in recent months, a consequence of joint Congo-Rwanda military operations against rebels that have uncapped an appalling level of violence against civilians.

 

Aid workers struggle to explain the sudden spike in male rape cases. The best answer, they say, is that the sexual violence against men is yet another way for armed groups to humiliate and demoralize Congolese communities into submission.

 

The United Nations already considers eastern Congo the rape capital of the world, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to hear from survivors on her visit to the country next week. Hundreds of thousands of women have been sexually assaulted by the various warring militias haunting these hills, and right now this area is going through one of its bloodiest periods in years.

 

The joint military operations that began in January between Rwanda and Congo, David and Goliath neighbors who were recently bitter enemies, were supposed to end the murderous rebel problem along the border and usher in a new epoch of cooperation and peace. Hopes soared after the quick capture of a renegade general who had routed government troops and threatened to march across the country.

 

But aid organizations say that the military maneuvers have provoked horrific revenge attacks, with more than 500,000 people driven from their homes, dozens of villages burned and hundreds of villagers massacred, including toddlers thrown into open fires.

 

And it is not just the rebels being blamed. According to human rights groups, soldiers from the Congolese Army are executing civilians, raping women and conscripting villagers to lug their food, ammunition and gear into the jungle. It is often a death march through one of Africa’s lushest, most stunning tropical landscapes, which has also been the scene of a devastatingly complicated war for more than a decade.

 

“From a humanitarian and human rights perspective, the joint operations are disastrous,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

 

The male rape cases span several hundred miles and possibly include hundreds of victims. The American Bar Association, which runs a sexual violence legal clinic in Goma, said that more than 10 percent of its cases in June were men.

 

Brandi Walker, an aid worker at Panzi hospital in nearby Bukavu, said, “Everywhere we go, people say men are getting raped, too.”

 

But nobody knows the exact number. Men here, like anywhere, are reluctant to come forward. Several who did said they instantly became castaways in their villages, lonely, ridiculed figures, derisively referred to as “bush wives.”

 

Since being raped several weeks ago, Mr. Ziwa, 53, has not shown much interest in practicing animal medicine, his trade for years. He limps around (his left leg was crushed in the attack) in a soiled white lab coat with “veterinaire” printed on it in red pen, carrying a few biscuit-size pills for dogs and sheep.

 

“Just thinking about what happened to me makes me tired,” he said.

 

The same is true for Tupapo Mukuli, who said he was pinned down on his stomach and gang-raped in his cassava patch seven months ago. Mr. Mukuli is now the lone man in the rape ward at Panzi hospital, which is filled with hundreds of women recovering from rape-related injuries. Many knit clothes and weave baskets to make a little money while their bodies heal.

 

But Mr. Mukuli is left out.

 

“I don’t know how to make baskets,” he said. So he spends his days sitting on a bench, by himself.

 

The male rape cases are still just a fraction of those against women. But for the men involved, aid workers say, it is even harder to bounce back.

 

“Men’s identity is so connected to power and control,” Ms. Walker said.

 

And in a place where homosexuality is so taboo, the rapes carry an extra dose of shame.

 

“I’m laughed at,” Mr. Mukuli said. “The people in my village say: ‘You’re no longer a man. Those men in the bush made you their wife.’ ”

 

Aid workers here say the humiliation is often so severe that male rape victims come forward only if they have urgent health problems, like stomach swelling or continuous bleeding. Sometimes even that is not enough. Ms. Van Woudenberg said that two men whose penises were cinched with rope died a few days later because they were too embarrassed to seek help. Castrations also seem to be increasing, with more butchered men showing up at major hospitals.

 

Last year, Congo’s rape epidemic appeared to be easing a bit, with fewer cases reported and some rapists jailed. But today, it seems like that thin veneer of law and order has been stripped away. The way villagers describe it, it is open season on civilians.

 

Muhindo Mwamurabagiro, a tall, graceful woman with long, strong arms, explained how she was walking to the market with friends when they were suddenly surrounded by a group of naked men.

 

“They grabbed us by the throat and threw us down and raped us,” she said.

 

Worse, she said, one of the rapists was from her village.

 

“I yelled, ‘Father of Kondo, I know you, how can you do this?’ ”

 

One mother said a United Nations peacekeeper raped her 12-year-old boy. A United Nations spokesman said that he had not heard that specific case but that there were indeed a number of new sexual abuse allegations against peacekeepers in Congo and that a team was sent in late July to investigate.

 

Congolese health professionals are becoming exasperated. Many argue for a political solution, not a military one, and say Western powers should put more pressure on Rwanda, which is widely accused of preserving its own stability by keeping the violence on the other side of the border.

 

“I understand the world feels guilty about what happened in Rwanda in 1994,” said Denis Mukwege, the lead doctor at Panzi Hospital, referring to Rwanda’s genocide. “But shouldn’t the world feel guilty about what’s happening in Congo today?”

The Hidden Victims of Wartime Rape By LARA STEMPLE

New York Times: March 1, 2011

 

(Lara Stemple is the director of graduate studies and of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law).

 

AS disturbing new reports of male rape in Congo made clear, wartime sexual violence isn’t limited to women and girls. But in its ongoing effort to eradicate rape during conflict, the United Nations continues to overlook a significant imperative: ending wartime sexual assault of men and boys as well.

 

Sexual violence against men does occasionally make the news: the photographs of the sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi men at the Abu Ghraib prison, for example, stunned the world.

 

Yet there are thousands of similar cases, less well publicized but well documented by researchers, in places as varied as Chile, Greece and Iran. The United Nations reported that out of 5,000 male concentration camp detainees held near Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict, 80 percent acknowledged having been abused sexually. In El Salvador, 76 percent of male political prisoners told researchers they had experienced sexual torture.

 

Rape has long been a way to humiliate, traumatize and silence the enemy. For many of the same reasons that combatants assault women and girls, they also rape men and boys.

 

Nevertheless, international legal documents routinely reflect the assumption that sexual violence happens only to women and girls. There are dozens of references to “violence against women” — defined to include sexual violence — in United Nations human rights resolutions, treaties and agreements, but most don’t mention sexual violence against men.

 

Ignoring male rape has a number of consequences. For one, it not only neglects men and boys, it also harms women and girls by reinforcing a viewpoint that equates “female” with “victim,” thus hampering our ability to see women as strong and empowered.

 

In the same way, silence about male victims reinforces unhealthy expectations about men and their supposed invulnerability. Such hyper-masculine ideals encourage aggressive behavior in men that is dangerous for the women and girls with whom they share their lives.

 

Sex-specific stereotypes also distort the international community’s response. Women who have suffered rape in conflict have likely endured non-sexual trauma as well. But when they are treated as “rape victims,” their other injuries get minimized.

 

Conversely, when men have experienced sexual abuse and are treated solely as “torture victims,” we ignore the sexual component of their suffering. Indeed, doctors and emergency aid workers are rarely trained to recognize the physical signs of male rape or to provide counseling to its victims.

 

Our failure to acknowledge male rape leaves it in the shadows, compounding the humiliation that survivors experience. For instance, the majority of Tamil males in Sri Lanka who were sexually assaulted during that country’s long civil war did not report it to the authorities at the time, later explaining that they were simply too ashamed.

 

The United Nations has attempted to take wartime rape seriously. In 2000 the Security Council passed Resolution 1325 which, among other things, promotes gender-sensitive training in peacekeeping, encourages hiring more women in peacekeeping roles and calls for better protection of women and girls in conflict zones. This is a crucial undertaking, but the agreement neglects to address sexual violence against men and boys.

 

At a ceremony last year marking the resolution’s 10th anniversary, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would develop a plan to accelerate the advancement of its goals, including $44 million for women’s equality initiatives around the world.

 

This is an important commitment. But the American government should expand its efforts to include the many international programs working with men and boys to challenge entrenched ideas about manhood and to stop the cycle of violence.

 

The International Criminal Court, nearly all American states and many countries use a sex-neutral definition of sexual assault. The United Nations and the White House must likewise move beyond the shortcomings of Resolution 1325 and commit to ending wartime sexual violence against everyone.



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