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Lack of Protection

The de facto authorities, the RCD and Rwandan forces that support them, have taken few meaningful steps to protect women and girls against rape either by its soldiers or those of its adversaries. According to witnesses, RCD soldiers and Rwandan government backers rarely intervene when civilians are attacked, even in the immediate vicinity of their military posts. They routinely wait until the attack is over and then make reprisal attacks against the enemy or against the civilian population itself which it suspects of disaffection. RCD troops and the Local Defense Force created by the authorities have in some cases helped women escape their captors in forests near Shabunda,215 but according to witnesses, Local Defense men who accompanied women to the fields for their protection commonly ran away when they were attacked.216

When asked how security could be improved, one girl who was raped along with her two younger sisters and two friends replied:

    Maybe they need to send better soldiers to the neighborhoods. We need a better governor and a better government [than the RCD]. With this government, no one has the least pity for anyone. They kill people just like that. We really need peace. You can accept being poor if you can have some peace in your home and in the country. Instead we are attacked.217

Justice and Impunity

The RCD retained the pre-war legal code and much of the administrative structure and personnel of the judicial system. As with many state employees, most prosecutorial and judicial personnel were not paid or were paid very irregularly.218 As the socio-economic situation deteriorated for the vast majority of the population, judicial personnel increasingly relied on bribery and corruption to earn their living. Civilians seeking justice had to pay for the service. And, as one activist told Human Rights Watch, "In court cases today, whoever has the money wins."219

People now have little faith in the system. Those who should protect them-the army, the police, and those in positions of power and influence such as judicial personnel-instead often preyed upon them. As those who commit crimes of sexual violence went unpunished, other potential abusers observed the tacit acceptance of such crimes and victims learned there was no point in lodging complaints.

Commenting on the fact that few rape cases go to court and that there is rarely a satisfactory outcome with those that do, a Congolese lawyer said:

You can't have justice in a context like this. Magistrates are not paid. They can't refuse gifts. It's the same with the security services....Women don't see the point of complaining-even if they say something, what will that change?

He also said that in those cases where women did bring charges, it was very hard to get a conviction for crimes of sexual violence. 220

When victims or their families did complain to authorities about the crimes that had been committed, authorities sometimes initially responded appropriately but then failed to prosecute the assailants. In the case of the rape and murder of the girl whose breast had been cut off before she was slain, RCD officers came to look at the body; the mother dies not know if they did anything more to punish those guilty. In the case of the five-year-old lured off to be raped, a squad known as the Rapid Intervention Police responded to the parents' complaint. Months later, neither of these investigations had produced any result. When fifteen-year-old Grace C. was abducted for eight days in Goma and lower-ranking officials could not or would not locate her, the head of RCD Intelligence had her back home within two hours. The man who abducted her was detained briefly and then released. The family decided not to pursue the case both for the security of the girl and "to preserve her dignity." They sent her out of the area.221 A war widow complained about having been raped by a policeman. He was removed and transferred to another post, but he was replaced by another who soon began sexually harassing the woman. She commented, " You can't go anywhere to complain-it's all corruption."222

Victims and their families believed they were especially unlikely to get action from the RCD authorities if the perpetrator was part of the RCD or the Rwandan Patriotic Army. A man who had tried to save a woman from rape by a Rwandan army soldier, himself sustaining serious injuries in the process, delivered a gun taken from the rapist to the local administration. But, he said, he expected no further action because the attacker was Rwandan. "It's just that the authorities won't do anything against these Rwandans," he said.223 A mother who believes her daughter's rapist will escape punishment explained that he had "the power to knock at the door of the Tutsi for help."224

Some obstacles to bringing rapists to justice predated the current crisis of war and economic disintegration. Neither the law nor police procedure makes any provision for protecting witnesses and ensuring confidentiality of proceedings. In deciding whether or not to bring charges against suspected perpetrators, victims and their families must consider not only the likelihood of punishing the criminal but also the likelihood of themselves suffering reprisals in the meantime. As one Congolese woman commented, "People are suspected but there is no punishment. If we went and denounced [the perpetrators], they [the authorities] would go and tell them [the accused] and they'd come back and kill you. Someone said your tongue kills you."225A Congolese lawyer said that he had advised several rape victims about bringing complaints, but that the women were reluctant to go forward with judicial proceedings because they feared for their safety:

It is a problem that legal cases are made public. Witness protection is necessary....The structure of the judiciary needs to be reviewed. Unfortunately closed sessions are not foreseen for rape cases.226

Under the Family Code, married women do not have full legal rights equal to those of a man; for example they must have their husband's authorization to initiate judicial action. Preferring to resolve such cases without involving the authorities, male relatives of victims sometimes negotiate a settlement with the perpetrator or his family. For example, sometimes the family of a girl who was raped decides that she should marry her rapist.227 Local women's associations have documented several cases of the same type and condemned this practice vigorously. Not only is it a fundamental breach of a woman's or girl's right to choose her husband, it also shows how little importance society attaches to violence against women.

In this climate of impunity and violence against the whole population, everyone, including women and the girls subjected to sexual violence, feels powerless to respond to violations. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are increasing and are being committed by an ever-wider range of perpetrators. Women and girls and other members of their communities, from civilians to members of police forces, need to be empowered to resist and respond to such attacks. Implementing the rule of law is a first step towards that empowerment. Ensuring the safety, confidentiality if sought, and treatment with dignity of those who come forward to testify as survivors or as witnesses is an essential step. The message must be clear that rape is unacceptable in society.

Human Rights Watch researchers raised these concerns with the Head of the Department of Justice of the RCD, Moïse Nyarugabo.228 He acknowledged that sexual violence was a problem in the area but said that no RCD soldiers had been prosecuted because there had been no complaints against them.

A Human Rights Watch researcher met with Col. Andrew Rwigamba, the RPA Military Prosecutor, who said that he had received complaints of RPA soldiers committing crimes of sexual violence in Congo, but that he lacked the necessary evidence to prosecute the cases. He pointed out that the RPA does not have investigators on the ground in Congo to gather the evidence promptly and said that later investigations were likely to produce inadequate proof to establish guilt.229

215 See pp.44-45.

216 Human Rights Watch interview, Shabunda, October 22, 2001.

217 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, October 18, 2001.

218 In March 2000, Human Rights Watch was told that some had been paid only twice since the current war had begun in August 1998. See Human Rights Watch, "Eastern Congo Ravaged," p.17.

219 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 17, 2000, in Ibid. p. 17.

220 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, October 25, 2001.

221 Electronic communication from family member to Human Rights Watch, December 2001; Human Rights Watch telephone interview, December 2001. The case of Grace has been explained in more detail in the chapter on Sexual Violence against Children and the Elderly.

222 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, October 25, 2001.

223 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, October 25, 2001.

224 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, October 27, 2001. As discussed above, the Tutsi are seen as holding the real power not just in Rwanda but also in eastern Congo.

225 Human Rights Watch interview, October 19, 2001.

226 Communication in Goma, October 22, 2001.

227 Human Rights Watch interview, Sake, October 26, 2001. Under Congolese law, a girl must be aged fifteen or over before she is legally allowed to marry (art. 352, Family Code).

228 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, October 26, 2001.

229 Human Rights Watch interview with Lt. Col. Andrew Rwigamba, Kigali, November 8, 2001.

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