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Rape as a Weapon of War in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Aired October 16, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, rape as a weapon of war in one of the most violent places on Earth, the Democratic Republic of Congo. So which does the world put first, the effort to find peace or to bring justice?

Good evening. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

It is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of our time, the civil war in Congo, which has killed 5 million people. And the fighting continues, with the most terrible consequences reserved for the women. The U.N. counted 16,000 cases of rape and sexual violence in the Congo last year alone, and the worst offender is the Congolese army.

So tonight, we go behind the statistics with film shot in Congo by one of our producers, George Lerner. It documents the 10-year investigation by one human rights activist.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, is on a mission to document abuses against the people of Eastern Congo. This area, the Ichari District (ph), saw ferocious fighting between the army and a rebel militia.

At the time of this journey, a cease-fire had just taken effect.

ANNEKE VAN WOUDENBERG, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: We're already starting to see the burned-out villages.

AMANPOUR: Along the road, evidence of the scorched-earth campaign that the Congolese army mounted to crush the insurgency. It's an operation that critics say seemed intent on punishing the people here for their alleged support of the rebels.

Tagaba (ph) had once been a village of 12,000. When Anneke reached there, it was a refugee camp of half that number.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is the result of war. All our homes have been burned. We have nothing, absolutely nothing.

AMANPOUR: The Congolese government either could not or would not maintain discipline over its troops here. People here say that soldiers roamed freely through the camp, abusing the population. In the first six months since the camp was established, more than 100 women, including these women with Anneke, reported being raped by government troops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There are many problems: cases of rape of our daughters, cases of rape of our mothers, cases of rape of our wives. This is what happens here.

AMANPOUR: The soldiers of the Congolese army's sixth brigade did not want to be filmed. But one did respond to the rape charges and talked about their mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We came here and through combat re-took the territory. Some of the population was together with the militia. There is no problem of rape here. We are calm. You can ask the chief here. We are doing our mission of guarding the population.

AMANPOUR: Their methods of guarding the population, villagers here say, made rape a tool of war.

VAN WOUDENBERG: I've never seen quite such deliberate or such intermixing between displaced people, between the civilians and the military. And I can see how dangerous this must be for -- for the local people here. We know that the rapes are incredibly high in number here.

AMANPOUR: Anneke said this was allowed to happen, ironically as a result of efforts to try to bring peace to Congo, because the government offered amnesty to militia leaders and encouraged them to lay down their weapons and join the Congolese army.

But for the people, that was an effort that back-fired.

VAN WOUDENBERG: They're integrated into the Congolese army. They become generals; they become colonels. And we then say that the Congolese army becomes an army of bandits, an army of war criminals, because they keep integrating individuals who are incredibly abusive into senior officer ranks.


AMANPOUR: And joining me right now is Anneke Van Woudenberg, who's just returned from her latest trip to the Congo.

Thank you so much for joining us. It is so shocking. You've just come back. That film was taken a couple of years ago. Has anything gotten any better?

ANNEKE VAN WOUDENBERG, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: If anything, actually, it's gotten worse. I just came back, indeed. And in Eastern Congo, the rape statistics have been doubling or tripling. So despite the fact that there's now huge awareness about the issue as -- of rape as a weapon of war, we're not seeing it end, and actually we're seeing it increase.

AMANPOUR: It's increasing even though the president of -- of Congo, Joseph Kabila, has said that there's going to be zero tolerance of this. Has -- has any effort been made to stop this amongst the army?

VAN WOUDENBERG: Well, zero tolerance is a very recent initiative. We met with President Kabila in July and spoke to him in detail about the cases of rape, especially those, of course, committed by his army. And he did take action. He announced this policy of zero tolerance. It's a good and noble objective. Of course, it has to be put into place.

And -- and so far, we're seeing some steps being taken, but there is a long way to go.

AMANPOUR: So how do you account for the increase in the rapes and the killings and the burnings of the houses?

VAN WOUDENBERG: Well, the rapes have increased since January of this year, so military operations started in January of this year again in Eastern Congo.

AMANPOUR: To do what? What specific military operations?

VAN WOUDENBERG: Well, these are operations that are intended to deal with one of the rebel groups that has been plaguing Eastern Congo for 14 or 15 years.

AMANPOUR: So an attempt to disarm and -- and annihilate them...

VAN WOUDENBERG: That's right.

AMANPOUR: ... has made, in fact, the situation worse for the civilians?

VAN WOUDENBERG: That's right. And although this rebel group itself had carried out many rapes, the fact that the Congolese army is now carrying out these military operations is making the situation worse for women and girls.

AMANPOUR: I'm just going to read you this, and tell me whether this is something that you agree with. The Congo Advocacy Coalition has said that, because of disarming these Hutu rebels, which is a top priority, indeed, for every rebel who has been disarmed this year, one civilian has been killed, seven women or girls raped, and 900,000 people made homeless. So is this so-called peacekeeping effort worth the violence?

VAN WOUDENBERG: That's exactly the question that needs to be asked. Human Rights Watch is part of this coalition, and we put this information out just yesterday saying, is this the cost that -- that should be paid? Is it right to ask again the women and girls of Eastern Congo to lay down their lives for a military operation that may or may not succeed?

AMANPOUR: But why are they being raped?

VAN WOUDENBERG: Rape is being used as a weapon of war in Eastern Congo. So we notice and we have documented that when armed groups walk into town, they will rape the women and girls, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, in order to punish the local population. It's the easiest way to terrorize a community.

AMANPOUR: Because they're also -- you know, there -- there is also the -- the idea that these soldiers are saying, well, we're out here in the -- in the -- in the hinterlands, 10 years away from our families. Let me read you a comment from one of the soldiers made to the Washington Post newspaper.

"What is making soldiers to do these bad things is their treatment by the army. Imagine one can of sardines for three soldiers in 15 days. You send a soldier away for 10 years, so I'm hungry, I'm in need of a wife, and I have no money to pay for a prostitute."

VAN WOUDENBERG: It's crazy. I mean, it's -- though, certainly one part of the problem is that the Congolese army is rarely paid and they don't get enough rations when they're out on military operations. So this, of course, makes the situation worse. It doesn't mean that they have to go out and rape, yet that is what they're doing.

AMANPOUR: Is there any way from your investigations, from what you've seen on the ground, that you can see a way to ending this, not just the -- the -- the war, but the specific attacks against the women?

VAN WOUDENBERG: Absolutely. I think they've got to start holding to account the generals and the colonels who are either themselves responsible or who allow their troops to rape. And so far, those are the guys that have been untouchable. No general has yet been held to account in Congo for rape, and it's high time that that changes.

AMANPOUR: Because there is a tool in the international courts of justice. Out of the Bosnian war came the notion that rape as a tool of war is a crime against humanity.


AMANPOUR: Do the Congolese -- did the Congolese government -- have they been made aware of this?

VAN WOUDENBERG: Well, they have, in fact, done one very important case where they did try the highest-ranking individual, which was a major at that time, for rape as a crime against humanity. But two weeks after he was found guilty, he escaped from prison, he and the rest of his individuals who had committed the rape, so there was a limited success to this story.

We're at the moment waiting for one of the top generals to be held to account. The U.N. Security Council handed over a list to President Joseph Kabila of Congo in May with five names on it, saying these are individuals in your army responsible for rape. Take action.

AMANPOUR: And what leverage does the U.N. or the international community have, if at all?

VAN WOUDENBERG: I think they have significant leverage. The largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world is in Congo. They pay some $6 million in fuel and rations for the Congolese army. Now, that should not be a blank check. That's got to come with a degree of conditionality. The U.N. should not be backing this army if this is an army that rapes more women and girls, and that's what they're doing.

AMANPOUR: And haven't some of the U.N. peacekeepers also been implicated in the rapes?

VAN WOUDENBERG: They have, which is, I'm afraid, a sad reality of what has happened. But the percentage of peacekeepers involved in rape is a very small percentage of the total. The reality is that the peacekeepers are supposed to be there and I think are working to protect civilians, but more needs to be done.

And I think, in particular, peacekeepers have to say, "We cannot support a Congolese army whose generals and colonels are rapists and killers, and there should be some conditions attached to the support they give."

AMANPOUR: Given that this is so much of the civilian environment and the war is against civilians as much as against militias and between militias, how does one protect the civilians?

VAN WOUDENBERG: Well, I think there needs to be, of course, more peacekeepers. We always say this. We need more of them. But I think they have to be in the right locations and, of course, be asking questions of women. We know that women are raped often at roadblocks. We know that they're raped when they go to the marketplace. So the U.N. needs to ensure that they're adequately patrolling during market days, that they're removing roadblocks.

You know, one of the other sad realities is that the majority of those who are raped are adolescent girls, 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds, 14-year- olds. Their lives are often ruined by this. And I think we've got to take more seriously -- protection of civilians is not just protecting them from death. It's protecting them from rape.

AMANPOUR: And it's been going on for 13 years. We'll continue this right after a break, so stay with us.

But next, what can U.N. peacekeepers in Congo do to stop these rapes, especially when some of them, as we said, are accused of engaging in the very same violence? A former head of U.N. peacekeeping will join us in a moment.



JOSEPH KABILA, PRESIDENT OF CONGO: It's shameful to see anybody in uniform doing anything that is contrary to the reasons why he's, in fact, in uniform. So, yes, it's shameful.


AMANPOUR: That was President Joseph Kabila of the Congo speaking three years ago. He called it shameful then, and this summer, he's announced a policy of zero tolerance. But what can really be done about these terrible crimes? We'll discuss that in a moment.

But, first, we want to look at some of the developing news in the Congo right now, violence in the northeastern part of that area. And I'm joined on the phone by Kenneth Lavelle of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Bunia.

How is it going there right now? What's happening with the civilians?

KENNETH LAVELLE, MEDECINS SAN FRONTIERES: And it's not just now. It's been ongoing for nearly one year now, another forgotten conflict with hundreds of thousands of the civilian population displaced, thousands killed, and it's ongoing today. And there's a huge need for an increase in humanitarian assistance to -- to these neglected, forgotten people in the northeast of Congo.

AMANPOUR: What's happening to the civilians in the northeast?

LAVELLE: Well, I mean, since the LRA attacks at the end of last year and the joint operations from the Ugandan and Congolese government, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes into the big urban centers in the -- the northeast of Congo.

Unable to get back home, they're reliant on humanitarian assistance and the assistance from their Congolese neighbors. And they're completely -- they're completely terrified, and they can't get back home. The violence is ongoing. And, yes, it's a catastrophe for the people here.

AMANPOUR: All right. Thank you so much for joining us there from Bunia. We're going to take up this discussion now with our guests in the studio.

I'm joined by Jean-Marie Guehenno, a former head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, and again by Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Thank you very much, indeed.

So that particular outbreak from Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army, that rebel group coming in, from the -- from the west you've got the Rwandan- backed Hutu rebels. Can anything be done about this, Jean-Marie?

JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO, FORMER HEAD OF U.N. PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS: Well, look, what needs to be done is to have a state in Congo that can control its territory and that has the confidence of the people. The violence in the Kivu, the violence in Ituri, it is the result of a vacuum, the fact that there is no administration, there is no credible state, there is no justice. And so that vacuum is being occupied by various militias.

And, unfortunately, when the Congolese army integrates a militia without sorting between the killers and those who could be integrated, it just adds to the problem.

AMANPOUR: Let me read what some human rights officials are saying, including Oxfam: "This appalling violence is no accident. It is the result of the U.N.-backed Congolese military operation against the FDLR militia," the Rwandan. "It's a strategy that is being supported in capitals and in the highest echelons of the United Nations."

GUEHENNO: Well, I think the U.N. is in a tough spot, to be frank, because if it did not give any support to the Congolese army, probably the Congolese army might prey even more on the population. At the same time, the notion that you're going to get rid of those militias just through military operations without building credible institutions is an institutions (ph).

In the Kivu, there's 10 million people. There's a lot of discussion on Afghanistan today. They look at the ratio of what would be needed to protect the population. If one applied the counterinsurgency ratios that the U.S. Army thinks of -- say, 20 per 1,000 -- that would mean -- that would mean 200,000 troops in Congo, 200,000 accountable troops.

AMANPOUR: You don't have them.

GUEHENNO: Of course not.

AMANPOUR: So, Anneke, I mean, is it all or nothing?

VAN WOUDENBERG: No. I mean, I think the military operations require more conditionality by the U.N., right? As we have been talking about, they should say to the Congolese army, "Yes, we'll come and support you, but only if you remove the killers and the rapists from your ranks."

AMANPOUR: You mentioned a list of five.

VAN WOUDENBERG: That's right. So the U.N. Security Council did hand over a list of five to President Joseph Kabila of generals responsible for rape, and we're still waiting for action on that. The top individual, one of the main generals, who we know has carried out widespread sexual violence -- his name is General Shahom Kakwabu (ph) -- he's still allowed to sit in his home, watching TV, not been arrested.

You know, if the president is serious about zero tolerance, if the U.N. is serious about protecting women and girls from rape, they should be demanding the immediate arrest of individuals like this.

AMANPOUR: Why doesn't the U.N. demand? Why doesn't the U.S. demand? It's paying a quarter of the peacekeeping costs. Why -- why don't you demand these things?

GUEHENNO: Well, I mean, I think the U.N. is demanding it, but I -- I totally agree with Anneke Van Woudenberg that there has to be a more clear message from the international community. There's not going to be peace on the cheap in Congo.

If one wants peace, one has to be serious about building a state that is not just one military replacing another. And the shortcut were to push out the -- the Hutu militias, which has committed abominable crimes. You just bring in another militia. That is not going to end the cycle of violence.

AMANPOUR: Did the U.N. ever hold accountable its own troops who were implicated in the rape?

GUEHENNO: It did. It's a command issue. You have to start with the commanders of the battalions. If you go one soldier at a time, it doesn't work.

AMANPOUR: So did they?

GUEHENNO: The only way -- yes, there were commanders who were sanctioned. They were actually, in some -- in one particular instance, there was a whole unit which were -- of police, which was repatriated. So that has happened.

But it's an ongoing fight. I think the U.N. needs to continue to hold accountable the commanders, because it's a command issue. If you -- if you think you can do it one soldier at a time, you will not achieve results.

AMANPOUR: And -- and in terms of the root of this conflict, a lot of it is about natural resources, minerals. Is the international community doing enough to make sure that those minerals are not such -- such a valuable prospect for these militias?

VAN WOUDENBERG: No, in fact, I think the international community has largely failed on that front. There's no doubt that Congo's immense mineral wealth is part of the problem. It's not the only problem, but it's part of the problem.

And the U.N. Security Council demanded a panel of experts year after year to report on this. When they finally reported -- I think they sent out about six or seven different reports -- the U.N. Security Council refused to take adequate action on companies in their own jurisdiction who were responsible for some of these atrocities or who helped facilitate the atrocities.

AMANPOUR: And in terms of -- as these atrocities are going on, it's always the civilians who are the -- who are the principal victims, principally the women and children. Civilian protection, how is that going to happen, when you say there are so few, relatively, and the latest batch only just arriving, the latest batch of some 3,000 peacekeepers?

GUEHENNO: Well, it's not going to happen only through military means. Military means can help, and the international community could have done more to support the United Nations with more intelligence, more special forces to have targeted operations.

But the real response is, first, to make a more serious effort at creating a serious Congolese army and a serious police. And, frankly, the -- the efforts of the international community have been disjointed and ineffective in the last two years.

AMANPOUR: What should they be doing?

GUEHENNO: Well, they should be very clear with the government of Congo on developing a real plan, which, again, starts at the top. You need a ministry of defense that is effective. You need a command chain that is credible. You need the money to go to pay the soldiers not to disappear in between. Some efforts have been made, but clearly insufficient.

AMANPOUR: Do you -- do you believe that you have a credible partner in President Joseph Kabila, who has said the right things in public? Is that something to be built on?

VAN WOUDENBERG: Look, you know, a country is never just its leader. It is also its institutions, it's -- it's -- it's trying -- the democracy that ought to be developed in Congo. I think we certainly have some huge concerns about the direction that President Kabila is taking the government in Congo. It is becoming increasingly repressive, as opposed to open.

The reality is, this is a state that has to be rebuilt after years of war. But I think far too often the international community is too quick to blame the U.N. without international capital backing up U.N. peacekeepers. And the United States is critical to this.

AMANPOUR: Yes. Well, we've seen this year after year in many, many places, in terms of -- of not enough peacekeepers and not enough funding and resources. But what -- you mentioned the Rwandan militias, the Rwandan militias who are operating there. Do you believe the -- the government has a responsibility, the government of Rwanda?

GUEHENNO: I think what you've seen -- no, the Rwandan militias -- I mean, in Congo, they were (inaudible) they are -- the one set the Rwandan government rightly wants to see disappear.

The issue there is that you're not -- you don't want to replace another militia by another militia. That will just further enflame the violence in Congo.

What is needed is exactly what Anneke Van Woudenberg said. You need institutions. You need the people in the Kivu to manage their considerable differences and conflicts over land, over all sorts of issues, through political institutions.

And they are -- they are -- there is a timetable. Next year, there's supposed to be local elections in Congo. Will these local elections be credible? Will they be a real opportunity for the people to express themselves? Or will they be just a sham? That's -- that's a very important issue.

AMANPOUR: And as you look to these elections, whenever they might turn up, tell me what your worst fear or hope is for the actual people on the ground, the women, the children, the old men who are caught up in this?

VAN WOUDENBERG: My worst fear is that we're going to continue to see those individuals responsible for rape being promoted. My hope is that the women and girls of -- of Eastern Congo in particular will continue to speak out. I think we've seen immense courage from those women and girls to say, "No, we've had enough."

Two hundred thousand of them have been raped. I just received an e- mail from a doctor in northeastern Congo this morning talking again about a young girl who'd been a virgin who was raped. You know, this is destroying them. Let's -- let's not forget what's happening to these women and girls.

AMANPOUR: And on that note, Anneke, thank you very much.

Mr. Guehenno, thank you very much, indeed.

And next, human rights in Afghanistan, a story of one courageous M.P. there.


AMANPOUR: Now our "P.S.," our post-script. Malalai Joya is speaking out against corruption by her fellow lawmakers in Afghanistan, and she's not mincing her words. She is an M.P. there, and she says her colleagues are no better than animals in a zoo. Her courage has made her many enemies, but she's determined to continue pushing for honest government and human rights, whatever the risk.

This conversation will continue online. Chat with other viewers and continue this debate on Please join us there.

And that's it for now. Thank you for watching. We'll be back tomorrow with the next big story. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.