William C. Mann, AP, May 13, 2009
Hundreds of thousands of women, girls and babies have been raped during 12 years of conflict in eastern Congo, victims of a weapon of war that almost always goes unpunished, senators were told Wednesday.
Similar atrocities are occurring in Darfur, the devastated western Sudan region where the United States said in 2004 that genocide was occurring. Women also have been targeted on a wide scale in recent decades during wars in Asia and Europe.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony on the plight of women caught up in violence, emphasizing the Darfur and Congo disasters.
Melanne Verveer, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, said 1,100 rapes are reported every month in the Congo battle area, “which is 36 women and girls raped each day.” Many are maimed by their attackers as well, she said.
“Rape is employed as a weapon because it is effective,” Verveer said. “It destroys the fabric of society from within and does so more efficiently than do guns or bombs.”
She said humanitarian organizations “report that attacks on women destroy the nucleus of the families, and with the unraveling families, the communities also disintegrate.
To make matters worse, she said, she quoted a report by the Human Rights Integrated Office in Congo that spoke of “a marked lack of seriousness” by law officers and magistrates toward raped females.
“Men accused of rape are often granted bail or given light sentences,” Verveer said. “Few cases are reported to the police, and fewer still are in prosecution.”
Verveer said that of the 14,000 rape cases registered in the Congo’s provincial health centers in between 2005 and 2007, only 287 were taken to trial.