It is impossible to achieve justice for gender crimes without legal investigations

October 16, 2015 21:10

The crime narrated in this text message, sent from a mobile phone to the news desk of Femme au Fone, remains silenced and unpunished. Currently, it is impossible to know the exact number of women and girls that were victims of sexual violation during the attack against the Kikamba village, at the South Kivu province (East of the DRCongo), perpetrated by the armed group Raïa Mutomboki.

After verifying and checking the information received, Femme au Fone (FAF) managed to reconstruct the case: On the afternoon of the 1st of May, during a raid of the armed group Raïa Mutomboki in the Kilamba village, territory of Shabunda (South Kivu province), the men raped a group of women. The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Hospital offered care to 127 victims of sexual assault during that night, and over the next days. All women were given the emergency kit PEP (following the emergency treatment protocol for rape cases) that prevents, among other things, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

Almost half a year after this gender crime, the total number of attacked and raped women in the armed incursion and what exactly happened to them have not been clarified; this illustrates the extent of the negligence and the impunity concerning sexual violence cases at the East of DR Congo.

The number of victims identified varies between 127 that MSF claims to have treated, the 30 that the provincial ministry of health concedes and the "ten rape cases" identified "after a Raïa Mutomboki raid" by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), six days after the attack.

Isolation is not the explanation

Kikamba is a small village of the Shabunda territory, located at approximately 420 km from Bukavu, the South Kivu capital, in the Great Lakes region. Shabunda and all its villages are isolated during the rainy season, when the national road "RN2" becomes insurmountable for cars, trucks and motorcycles. Those who have 600 dollars can travel by a commercial flight; those who work for an international NGO can request a place on a UN flight.

The information emerging from this territory is scarce and difficult to corroborate, and therefore, rumours are easily spread.The electronic messages that FAF periodically receives from the Shabunda women talk about looting, kidnapping, deaths and sexual violence towards women mainly perpetrated by the armed group Raïa Mutomboki; as well as crimes against civilians during the armed incursions in villages and communities and during fights with the Congolese army.

Raïa Mutomboki, which means 'outraged citizens' in Swahili, have been in this region for many years.

Verification mechanisms

In the case of Kikamba, MSF states that 127 women went to its clinic pointing out that they had been raped; all of them were treated following the emergency treatment protocol. According to the provincial sector of this international organisation, Doctors without Borders inflates the data when it proceeds this way.

"According to the victims and other Kikamba inhabitants, on the afternoon of May 1, dozens of armed men attacked the villages, ravaged the houses, beat the men they encountered and raped a lot of women until sunrise", states the press release published by MSF Spain, dated 15th of May.

In its verification procedure, Femme au Fone had an interview with Francisco Otero Villar, director of Doctors without Borders Spain, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the past 21st of May. This is a summary of the interview. Here to the full interview, in French.

FAF: The message we have received states that 36 women were raped by armed men, members of Raïa Mutomboki. Do you have more information about the perpetrators of these violations?
Francisco Otero Villar, MSF: Yes. In fact, I can confirm that on the night of the 30th of April to 1st of May, the Kikamba village, at the south of Shabunda, located halfway between Shabunda and Kalole, suffered the incursion of an armed group. Armed men arrived to the village and started looting in the middle of the night. Many people were also wounded in the raid; those injured by bullets were also evacuated to medical centres and referral hospitals. In fact, as soon as our team was warned about this situation, members of the organisation travelled over the next 24 hours to the Kikamba village, where we started to receive a substantial number of women that told us they had been victims of sexual violence during the attack [executed] by armed men.

FAF: Some days after the attack you published a release in which you talked about 127 female victims of sexual assault. Can you confirm that these 127 women were raped?
MSF: As I already said, the incursion happened on the night of April 30th to May 1st and in the next 24 hours our team arrived to the scene. As soon as the women and people that were in the village knew that MSF had arrived, a substantial number of women came to the health centre where we helped then arrange an appointment. Obviously, not all the women arrived at once, but in the course of the following days. We treated 127 women.

FAF: And does the medical team confirm that the women were raped?
MSF: One women comes to our clinic asking for the medical staff and claiming to have been victim of a sexual assault; therefore she is seen by the medical staff, who opens her clinical history and, if she is within the 72 hours, she is given the necessary treatment (PEP) according to the protocol established for this kind of situation.

FAF: Have you identified girls and minors among the group of victims that you treated?
MSF: Yes. This inadmissible tragedy; because this act only can be described in this way, was reported to the civil, medical and military authorities of the region straight away, and not only to the authorities of Shabunda, but also to the authorities of the capital. Fortunately, the percentage of underage victims was not high in this tragedy; and the age group is between 14- 18 years.

FAF: Who warned MSF about the attack in Kikamba?
MSF: MSF works in Kikamba. For many years , we have supported a health centre in the area, and there are local doctors that work with us, with which we are constantly in touch. Besides the medical staff that helps in the region of Kikamba, we also count on international staff that visits this health centre regularly. So, whenever something happens, not only in Kikamba but also in any other areas where we support a health centre, we are informed. Whenever we can, we send reinforcement, as soon as possible, to analyse the situation and to initiate the necessary procedures to treat the victims.

FAF: How do you treat these victims?
MSF: Firstly, of course, we provide a medical consultation, followed by a clinical diagnosis in the following 72 hours. We provide what we call a PEP kit, which consists of medicines used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. This is the healing physical procedure, but we also offer psychological support, that only continues on the basis that the women can come regularly to the health centre. Sexual violence is something really traumatic for the victims, so we have to ensure there is integrated support.

FAF: In the province of South Kivu,until recently female victims of sexual violence used to remain silent and, of course, they did not resort to any treatment service, particularly in poor and isolated villages as Kikamba. Could you explain to us why the women have turned to MSF?
MSF: It is true that after all these years of work in the Shabunda region, MSF has achieved to get closer to the population and gain some trust. It is essential for us to see some long-term outcomes, resulting from the work done over many years, particularly in situations like this one, when women have relied on MSF and resorted to us for treatment. MSF always guarantees the confidentiality of information, namely, the health status, the treatment given and the identity of the person, and this is key.

FAF: What are the existing levels of collaboration between you and the local authorities for rape cases?
MSF: We have very good collaboration levels with the civil, medical and military regional authorities. Sadly, sexual violence in Kivu [province of South Kivu] is not something new, but something recurring. There are mechanisms and meetings set up by the government, in an attempt to alleviate it. In this case, we communicated with the medical and civil authorities straight away to warn them about this tragedy, however they are responsible for putting in place the pertinent measures to initiate the investigations. This is not MSF's responsibility.

FAF: In 2014, MSF ran more that 150.000 consultations, in the 4 hospitals and the 6 health centres they support in the Shabunda territory. Of these, 260 were related with sexual assaults. In May, you treated 127 rape victims from a single armed attack, the Kikamba one. Do you think that the total number of cases will have risen by the end of 2015?
MSF: Of course, there will be an impact on numbers, but we have to understand this as an exceptional case that happened in that moment, in that village. I hope this doesn't become a trend. It is clear that the figure will increase, but we cannot extrapolate the results neither state that this is a trend that could repeat itself in other villages. In fact, this is the reason I directly notified all the authorities, so they can take measures and facilitate the presence of more state and international forces to guarantee the safety of the people.