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Mass Rape in the Congo: A Crime Against Society

Mass rapes in the Congo are destroying civic life, as hundreds of thousands of rape victims are cast out from their families and communities.

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But the women worry about the future. Can they sustain their work? They need maize mills to process their harvest into more profitable maize meal, yet no international NGO has funds to carry them this last step to self-sufficiency. Will the UN let them down too?

The UN's largest peacekeeping force, MONUC, is charged with preventing armed conflict and protecting civilians in the DRC. Yet in eastern Congo its numbers are too few to patrol an area far larger than France and overrun by militias that -- despite repeated international agreements -- have never been disarmed. So it should be no surprise that war rages again just over the provincial border in North Kivu; there the national army tries to turn back the forces of Laurent Nkunda, who professes to protect Tutsis from Hutu génocidaires in a relentless reprise of the Rwandan genocide. In Rwanda 1 million people died under orders in three months in 1994; in the DRC 5 million have died in the continuation. As I write, the roads of North Kivu are filling with a quarter-million civilians in flight, with no place to go. Cholera threatens thousands camped in the rain outside the provincial capital. Reports tell of the massacre of civilian men of fighting age -- and once again the mass rape of women and girls.

CFK is only one of many women's groups organized in the DRC, just one example of what women can do, with a little security and a little help from the international community, to counteract the centrifugal force of hundreds of thousands of "acts of sexual violence against civilians" and make way for that elusive durable peace.

Writer/photographer Ann Jones is working as a volunteer with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on a special project for their Gender-Based Violence (read: Violence Against Women) unit called "A Global Crescendo: Women's Voices from Conflict Zones." Her blogs about the project can be found by clicking here. She is the author, most recently, of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan (Metropolitan Books), a report from another war that's not over.

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