August 1, 2002

Forces on all sides in the Congo conflict have committed war crimes against women and girls. HRW's report, "The War Within The War: Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in Eastern Congo," documents the frequent and sometimes systematic use of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the Rwandan-occupied areas of eastern Congo.

The report was launched at a press conference in Brussels with Immaculee Birhaheka, representing a church-based women's NGO in Bukavu/South Kivu, and Mathilde Muhindo, a women's rights activist from Goma/North Kivu. Immaculee and Mathilde joined Human Rights Watch in meetings with EU and Belgian government officials. The report received extensive international coverage with articles in De Morgen, De Standaard, La Libre Belgique, Le Soir, The Guardian, National Post, Die Tageszeitung, Libération, La Croix, Jeune Afrique; and accounts on BBC, Radio France Internationale, Voice of America, Radio Canada, Radio Notre Dame, Radio Vatican, Radio Okapi (MONUC radio in Kinshasa), Chicago radio WBEZ; and the interanational wire services. Mathilde was also interviewed on Brussels television.

During a recent stay in Kisangani, HRW staff found interest among local NGOs in doing training or other sensitization of the military on sexual violence.

Human Rights Watch is currently following up about the report with meetings in eastern Congo, Rwanda and Burundi with RCD-Goma, a rebel group based in eastern Congo, as well as diplomats, NGOs and the Rwandan government. Immaculée, Mathilde and HRW have organized debriefing meetings for local NGOs in Goma and Bukavu and will organize meetings with the UN and international organizations to share information about what is being done on the issue of sexual violence.