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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March, 2005, 11:23 GMT
'No justice' for DR Congo's raped
By Robert Walker
BBC News, Kigali

A rape victim in DR Congo
Rape survivors are often ostracised by their communities
A human rights group says the justice system in the Democratic Republic of Congo needs urgent reform to end widespread rape in eastern areas.

The US-based Human Rights Watch says that although more rape victims have gone to court, the government has not done enough to ensure prosecutions.

The organisation says armed men have raped tens of thousands of women and girls since civil war began in 1998.

The violence has continued despite an official end to the civil war in 2003.

HRW says that in some parts of eastern DR Congo, rape has become so prevalent the women have stopped going to work in the fields.

Some of the victims are girls as young as three. Men and boys have also been raped.

Weapon of war

But sexual violence in eastern DR Congo is not a random act.

It is often used as a weapon of war; a means of humiliating and controlling civilian populations.

Many victims are gang-raped. Some are also violated with objects like sticks and knives.

Only a handful of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. But HRW's Alison Deforges says women in eastern DR Congo are now fighting to end this impunity.

"In the past, this was an area where there was virtually no action by victims - they were too ashamed, too weak, too afraid to try to do anything.

"But the remarkable development in the last year has been an effort by a number of victims to bring their aggressors to justice," she says.

But the challenges they face in taking their cases to court are huge.

Prosecutors are sometimes unwilling to investigate crimes of rape; witnesses are intimidated; and military authorities often refuse to cooperate.

HRW wants urgent reform of the justice system to make prosecution of rape easier - both to allow the inclusion of male rape, rape with objects and, in addition, provision for protection of witnesses and assuring confidentiality.

But, for now, impunity in eastern DR Congo continues.

HRW says less than 12 perpetrators have been prosecuted, out of tens of thousands of rapes committed.

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