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Democratic Republic of Congo: Find a Word for It
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Democratic Republic of Congo: Find a Word for It
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Intended Consequences: Valentine

Rape is a weapon that costs nothing, but it can cause as much damage as a bomb. We travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to interview Dr. Denis Mukwege, one of the few doctors in the country willing to treat rape survivors, to discover the truth behind one of the world's greatest unreported evils. 

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Produced by dev.tv and UNIFEM as part of the series "Women on the Front Line."

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Segment 1

TITLE
Women on the Front Line
ANNIE LENNOX
It threatens the lives of more young women than cancer. It affects one in three women worldwide. It leaves women mentally scarred for life. 'It' is violence against women and girls. According to the UN, this brutality is on the rise. Our series comes from the frontline of the hidden war on women and girls. The field of conflict is just as likely to be the home as the brothel. This time on Women on the Front Line we are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape is a weapon of war. Since 1999 over 5 million people have perished, making it the deadliest conflict since the Second World War.
HONORATA KIZENDE
Sometimes, when they said that you were the most beautiful woman, it was a disaster! They put you in the middle of everyone, on a cross, with your head down and your legs spread and they raped you in that position. And the others had to cheer them on and dance around you.
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE [Director of Panzi Hospital]
It's a weapon that costs nothing, but which can cause as much damage as a bomb.
VOICEOVER
This is the story of two of the thousands of women in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo who have been victims of systematic rape. There has been a war here for a decade. According to the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian relief agency, the conflict and its fall-out, such as disease and malnutrition, have killed an estimated 5.4 million people in Eastern Congo. Estimates of the number of victims of sexual violence vary, as some women are so traumatized and ashamed they don't want to admit to having been raped.
TITLE
Find a Word for It ...
TUMAINI
They killed the women who resisted them, by cutting their throats and throwing them in a mass grave. Sometimes, they pushed those who were still alive into the grave and threw boiling water on them, or burned them alive.
VOICEOVER
The conflict in Eastern Congo started after the Rwandan genocide, in 1994. Fleeing revenge from the new Tutsi government, nearly a million Rwandan Hutus crossed over to Eastern Congo. Among them were the Hutu militias, called the Interahamwe, who had taken part in the genocide. In 1998, the Congo was reeling from a year-long civil war. The Interahamwe joined other militias fighting for territory and mineral resources. This conflict escalated into a full-blown war, drawing in armies from eight surrounding countries. Underlying it all was a struggle for control of the minerals such as gold and diamonds. A peace agreement was signed in late 2002, but despite the presence of the biggest United Nations peacekeeping force in the world, the plethora of armed groups carried on fighting. For Alexandra Bilak, who works for an organization funded by Swedish churches specializing in conflict resolution, this anarchy is at the root of the brutality.
ALEXANDRA BILAK [Life and Peace Institute]
The absence of a state in Congo leaves an economic, political, judicial, and social void everywhere. This leaves the door open to unspeakable violence. I mean complete impunity.
VOICEOVER
In Eastern Congo, the South Kivu province was one of the hardest hit by the war. In 2004, Bukavu, the [provincial] capital, was the scene of fighting between the men of Rwanda-backed dissidents Colonel [Jules] Mutebutsi and General [Laurent] Nkunda, and the Congolese army. At the time, the German aid agency GTZ [Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit] reported "countless victims of rape." The victims ranged from one-year-old babies to 80-year-old women. GTZ put us in touch with 55-year-old Honorata Kizende. Eight years ago, Honorata, who is from a town in South Kivu, was a teacher and mother of five. But disaster struck in October 2001. While she was in the market, she was abducted by Rwandan Hutu militias. She says her life then became a nightmare of sexual slavery.
HONORATA KIZENDE
I was everybody's woman and nobody's woman. Whoever wanted to satisfy his sexual needs came on us. Sometimes they would shout "Food! Food!" We thought maybe they were bringing us food. But unfortunately, it was not food. It was us, the women, who were their "food."
VOICEOVER
Today, even mundane tasks remind her of gruesome events she says she saw during her 18-month-long captivity.
HONORATA KIZENDE
I saw them pick up a child to see if their knife was well sharpened. They cut the child in two. They left one half, we could see the other half. They told the mother: "You musn't cry. Our knife is sharp."
VOICEOVER
In April 2003, Honorata escaped her captors and walked 350 kilometres to Bukavu. But here, she got caught in the Mutebutsi rebellion of 2004 and was raped again.
HONORATA KIZENDE
When these people raped us, I remember I bled for more than two weeks. I had five different sexually transmitted diseases. I was in Panzi Hospital for over two months.
VOICEOVER
Doctors in Panzi confirmed the seriousness of her condition. One of her diseases was syphilis.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
Panzi Hospital in Bukavu is a sanctuary for the victims of sexual violence. But just a handful of women are lucky enough to find their way here for treatment. Dr. Denis Mukwege, the director of the Panzi hospital, has been treating women for 25 years, but he says the horrors of the last 10 years have changed him forever.
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE
I could never imagine that sex could create such a disaster. You see entire villages being abandoned. They escape and the only reason is the rape. They flee, they leave everything behind, they abandon their fields and their cattle. If they work in the gold mines, cassiterite, or coltan mines, they leave because they say, "I can't stay here because I'm afraid that my wife and daughters will be raped." Sex is a gift from God, so we can use it, but if it is badly used it's a weapon that costs nothing, but which can cause as much damage as a bomb.
VOICEOVER
In Panzi Hospital, the doctors introduced us to a 17-year-old girl they were treating. They were to tell us later that her internal injuries were consistent with the story she would tell us under an assumed name. Tumaini says she was kidnapped in May 2006 by an armed group of 30 men who called themselves the "Partisans of Jesus". She calls them Interahamwe.
TUMAINI
Every day I was raped, sometimes up to 10 times a day.
INTERVIEWER
Was it one person or more?
TUMAINI
No it was one and he was the commander, but it was every day. The day I was kidnapped, all five raped me. And then I was taken to the camp and the leader said "I will be your husband."
VOICEOVER
Tumaini quickly fell pregnant. It was a difficult delivery; it lasted days. In the end, her captors decided to cut her and Tumaini gave birth to a stillborn [baby]. But they destroyed her genitals in the process. Tumaini developed fistulas: holes between her bladder, her vagina, and her rectum.
TUMAINI
My health was deteriorating more and more. I couldn't hold my urine and faeces. I lived in difficult conditions. I used to sleep on the ground, on branches and leaves. My kidnapper decided to take me into the bush. We walked for a long time, at a certain point he abandoned me on the road. From there I continued on my own and reached home at last.
VOICEOVER
Tumaini was released in May 2007. Her parents were overjoyed to see her alive after one year without any news. But the majority of the women who have been raped or have fistulas are abandoned and rejected by their husbands, families, and communities. Even here in Panzi, the fistula patients don't mingle with the others. Except during meal times, when they have to stand.
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE
It's characterized by an uncontrolled loss of urine and faeces. And you can imagine, there is this strong sour smell, which makes people think, "What is happening to this woman?" So there is already an element of repulsion. But if you add in the fact she has been raped, which is associated with HIV, these women become automatically stigmatized.
VOICEOVER
Dr. Mukwege says every year approximately 600 women are operated on for fistulas in Panzi. The majority are obstetrical, due to complications during birth. Most of the health centres in the rural areas have been destroyed by the war and because of the insecurity people are afraid to travel to hospitals. Then there are the horror stories of girls such as Tumaini. The brutality they are subjected to leads to what the doctors call traumatic fistulas. They're caused by mass rapes and deliberate mutilation of the vagina. Tumaini survived and she's already been successfully operated on once. She's now waiting for a second operation for complete recovery. But some women never heal, even after several operations. This is the ward of the women who've undergone surgery recently. It will be three anxious weeks before knowing if their operation is successful.
INTERVIEWER
Are they anxious?
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE
Yes, anxious. When they've been operated on, when they haven't left the bed and the bed is not dry, they're afraid. They ask themselves a lot of questions. What is going to happen, etc? It troubles them a lot.
INTERVIEWER
And what is the rate of success of an operation?
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE
We are between 90 and 95 percent successful.

Segment 3

VOICEOVER
In January 2008, the Conference of Goma raised hopes for a lasting peace again. A ceasefire was signed between the Congolese militias, the army and the dissident rebel groups. But the Rwandan Hutus were not part of the conference. For the women, the war is far from over.
HONORATA KIZENDE
I know that for the women in rural areas, rape is still happening. The war is still there. We are dealing with the effects, but not the causes. The cause is all those rapists scattered in the forests. When they bump into a woman, they rape her. They find a woman in a field, they rape her. The woman will sow but she will never be able to harvest. She wants to go to draw water, but instead of water she will find the rapists there; they will rape her and leave her. Sometimes, they will rape her and then kill her.
ALEXANDRA BILAK
In general, sexual violence is committed by all of the groups. That must be clearly stated. Whether it is the national army or rebel groups, everyone -- everyone -- is guilty of rapes and sexual crimes.
VOICEOVER
After the Conference of Goma, everybody was talking of peace, of amnesty, disarmament, reintegration. The warlords were gathered in Bukavu. We spoke directly to the leaders of the Congolese militias, called the Mai Mai. Had their troops been responsible for the systematic rape?
FAUSTIN MULONDA [Mai Mai Ny'kiriba Group]
Madam, this is your understanding and it is exactly this biased judgement that makes things fuzzy and confusing. The Mai Mai are not involved in this business. The Mai Mai have an ideology which ensures a certain number of moral principles and one of these is precisely total abstention from any abuses, especially of sexual violence.
VOICEOVER
We met with two officers of the Congolese army that evening. The conversation was tense.
MAJOR CLOVIS MUNGUASHIRE [Security and Intelligence Officer]
I told you already. Those rapes that have been committed, were perpetrated by the armed groups, the negative forces. It's not the Congolese army anymore. It's the negative forces who do this.
VOICEOVER
By the "negative forces" he means the Rwandan Hutus. The women we met also accused the Interahamwe, the generic name for Hutu militias in Congo. It was impossible to meet any of them in South Kivu, so we went to Mannheim, in Germany, to meet with Ignace Murwanashyaka, a self-exiled official of the FDLR, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda, a group of approximately 8,000 combatants, notorious for its alleged human rights abuses.
IGNACE MURWANASHYAKA [Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda]
It's often exaggerated. If you talk to an activist or the women in Bukavu they will say, "The people guilty of these rapes are first and foremost the Hutus." But if you continue discussing with them, often they can end up accepting that the Congolese army rapes too. But they accept this with great difficulty. First they want to see the foreigners as the criminals, then the locals. I can't say that all the members of the FDLR are saints, I'm not saying that.
VOICEOVER
While we were filming, a violent earthquake hit Bukavu, claiming six lives and injuring hundreds. A ministerial delegation from Kinshasa, complete with the trappings of power, descended on Panzi Hospital in a show of solidarity for the victims of the earthquake. The victims of sexual violence, all decked up, also waited for the delegation. But they never came. We asked the visiting Minister of Interior what measures the government was going to take against sexual violence.
DENIS KALUME NUMBI [Minister of State for Interior, Decentralization, and Security]
All I know is that in our culture, and I've been working for a long time, I've never seen this. It started at a particular time, when there was unrest in the region, so it's something that has been imported. We have to restructure mentalities. The people in power and the government have to implement laws which deal with and severely punish the people who act like this.
VOICEOVER
The UN Human Rights Office in Congo says 16,869 rape cases were registered in South Kivu in 2007. But only 304 cases have been taken to court. To date, 70 men have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
DR. JOSEPHINE KAWENDE BORA [United Nations Population Fund]
I think it's because of our dysfunctional judicial system that people profit from this apparent climate of impunity and commit all these crimes. Most of the time, the cases rarely end up in court. Sometimes the victims are intimidated because the rapists may be men who are in a position of power. They might be people in authority or they are armed men, who come and threaten their family. They say for instance: "If you dare lodge a complaint, it will not be rape anymore, we will come and kill you." And so people are afraid, they keep quiet and they hide.
VOICEOVER
Wilhelmine Ntakebuka heads a local NGO and regularly goes out to the villages, to bring the women who suffer from fistulas to Panzi. She thinks that the problem lies with Congolese society at large.
WILHELMINE NTAKEBUKA [Vico centre for victims of sexual violence]
I think the women in Congo are considered objects. Women in Congo are not worth much. But we also know that the foundation of society is the woman, because it's the women who produce for the survival of the family. So, if you destroy the woman who is the foundation of society, of the family, it weakens the man.
VOICEOVER
Honorata now lives with three of her children in Bukavu. She hasn't seen her husband since she was kidnapped. She's not even sure he would take her back. Her life is a struggle and she can't go back home for fear of reprisals from the militias.
HONORATA KIZENDE
I could never imagine such things happening to me in life. I knew that I had nearly finished my life, that I had my husband, my children, and my work. I had planned everything and now I was really lost. When I came here to Bukavu, I didn't want to see anyone. I avoided people, I shut myself away and it was terrible. If now I can talk, it's because I saw that if everybody keeps silent, the world will never know what's happening here. Really the women are suffering.
VOICEOVER
Tumaini will eventually go back to her village. But she's afraid she'll be kidnapped again. She finds solace in religion and says she wants to go back to school. At 17, after her traumatizing experience with men, marriage is not an option -- ever.
DR. DENIS MUKWEGE
If you say "rape," people usually can imagine what's happened, but what these women go through is not ... I think the word [rape] is not suitable. Sexual terrorism? I don't know. You must find a word because what they go through is not really ... the word "rape" doesn't really describe it. Did you find the word?
VOICEOVER
Despite the ceasefire signed in Goma in January 2008, the fighting, rapes, and killings continue in Eastern Congo.
TITLE
[end credits]