Rape as Weapon of War in the Eastern DRC? The Victims' Perspective


Maedl, Anna. 2011. "Rape as Weapon of War in the Eastern DRC? The Victims' Perspective." Human Rights Quarterly 33 (1): 128-47.

Author: Anna Maedl


Rampant sexual violence is one of the most horrendous human rights abuses taking place within Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) armed conflict. The UN has called these abuses "strategic" and a "weapon of war." Both labels carry specific implications within the human rights discourse. However, there is a lack of structured data exploring these concepts in the context of the DRC. To address this empirical gap, twenty-five rape survivors were interviewed. In the eyes of the victims the rapes served a multitude of different purposes and appear to be both endemic and indiscriminate. The rapes are the modus operandi of the war.

Keywords: sexual violence, rape, war rape, weapon of war


"To address this analytical and empirical gap, twenty-five rape survivors were interviewed by clinical psychologists using a structured protocol. The participants were asked about a) basic socioeconomic data about their lives before the rape, b) data on the alleged perpetrators and their courses of action during the rape, c) the perceived reasons for the rape, and d) further victims of the crime (e.g. people who were forced to watch, beaten, abducted, killed, or also raped)." (129)
"No woman reported that there was a single offender: 31.8 percent of the women were attacked by two to four combatants, 18.2 percent by five to ten, 13.6 percent by eleven to twenty, and 36.4 percent of the women were attacked by more than twenty combatants." (139)
"Additionally, some authors have suggested that gang rapes serve internal group purposes. They could establish hierarchy within armed groups, i.e. the highest man in the hierarchy rapes a woman first and so on, and they are thought to increase male group bonding through the common experience of rape and to overcome moral barriers through group pressure. The data suggests that armed groups organize and act together to rape civilian women. This practice can hence be described as a deliberate pattern of action. However, in order to call it a strategy or weapon of war, the motives or aims this strategy is meant to serve would have to be clarified." (141)
"Almost half of the perpetrators are thought to have been on drugs or drunk while they raped their victims. The use of drugs has also been reported by FARDC soldiers and it has been alleged that child combatants are forced to take drugs. Marijuana is grown (possibly in large quantities) in the territory of Uvira by the FDLR. There are also reports from other conflicts, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, that women have frequently been raped by combatants who were under the influence of alcohol. To understand whether and how rape is used as weapon of war, it may be of importance to clarify if psychoactive substances serve a specific function within this context. They could, for example, be used to overcome moral barriers, or the substances themselves could be sexually stimulating and foster aggression. In this context it would also be important to know whether their superiors give combatants drugs or alcohol." (141-142)
"Many women could clearly confirm that there was a hierarchical structure within the group of attackers, i.e. these women could hear someone giving orders or identify one of the perpetrators as being a superior of the others. This observation is highly relevant, because it provides evidence that the rapes are perpetrated as a military activity and are an inherent part of the groups’ conduct. It further shows that superiors could be held responsible for the behavior of their groups." (142)
"In the eyes of most women there were multiple reasons why they were raped. These included strategic purposes, as well as opportunistic behavior. To displace communities, instill fear within them, to punish them, as well as to gain or destroy magical power could be seen as strategic objectives. The first two ranked highest amongst the participants’ answers. Fewer women than expected reported that the rapes were to punish their communities. Often the women did not consider their communities to be parties in any way to the conflict." (145)
"To transmit diseases (like HIV/AIDS) and to impregnate women are also deemed strategic objectives of rape. Taken together, 57 percent of the women thought that these were reasons why they were raped. If these are indeed strategic objectives of sexual abuse, the long-term goals behind such strategies must be clarified." (145)
"Furthermore, almost one-third of the women believed that the combatants raped them to be sexually relieved and 19 percent thought that they were raped “just for fun.” Though these explanations were not given as often as others, their frequency is still alarming and points to the enormity of the culture of violence and sexism present in the Eastern DRC. Women themselves are considered a 'lootable resource.'" (145)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Health, HIV/AIDS, International Organizations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Rights, Human Rights, Women's Rights, Security, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women Regions: Africa, Central Africa Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Year: 2011

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