In the conflict-torn Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a big step was taken in the fight against impunity in sexual violence cases during the United Nations campaign, “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.”
The two main women’s media organizations in DRC teamed up with Internews to conduct forums and talk shows with the goal of improving reporting on the issue and bringing the debate to the public’s attention.
The issue of impunity was brought to the forefront by the arrest of eighteen members of the “Army of Jesus” (l’Armée de Jésus), a militia led by Frédéric Batumike, a member of the South Kivu provincial Parliament. They are accused of abducting and raping at least 46 young girls, aged 8 months to 12 years old, around Kavumu from 2013 to 2016. Kavumu is a small city located near Bukavu, South Kivu’s capital city.
Most of the victims were taken to Panzi hospital, a unique health facility in Bukavu renowned for the treatment of survivors of sexual violence and complex gynecological injuries, but at least two died from their injuries.
The militants believe that the blood from the sexual assaults of virgins give them supernatural protection from bullets during conflicts.
The arrests were a turning point as these crimes are often not prosecuted. The trial opened in a military court on November 9. Threats against witnesses have been reported. Batumike’s lawyers also tried to deny competence to the military court.
Although the Congolese central government has become more involved in ending impunity for sexual violence, their efforts are often not supported by actions of public institutions. Kavumu’s trial is therefore monitored by human rights and women’s rights associations and the international community. NGOs such as Trial, Physicians for Human Rights and Panzi Foundation are advocating internationally on this case for ending impunity for sexual abuse.
With Internews support, women journalists, members of the Association des Femmes de Médias du Sud Kivu (AFEM), reported how Kavumu’s citizens were dealing with the trial and the work of local associations and community based organizations to prevent sexual violence.
On November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, AFEM leaders participated in a forum, organized in Kavumu, by Freedom House, the Carter Center and the American Bar Association. Citizens of Kavumu were able to discuss the threats and opportunities of the trial with the prosecutor, police senior officials and members of the South Kivu government.
Internews recorded the debate and with AFEM produced a radio program – Café Presse – that is available on the Internews DRC radio program exchange tool. It is being broadcast during the 16 days of activism campaign on six main South Kivu radio stations.
In Kinshasa, two other talk shows on women’s rights will be produced in collaboration with Union Congolaise des Femmes de Médias (Congolese Union of Women Media Professionals – UCOFEM).
On December 10, International Human Rights Day and the end date of the “16 days of Activism” campaign to eliminate violence against women, Internews will close with the production of a talk show with Louise Mushobekwa, DRC’s minister of Human Rights, human rights defenders and women activists. The show will be broadcast nationwide.
These activities were funded by the Swiss cooperation and USAID.