The widespread use of rape in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been an underreported topic during the many years that it has been occurring. But lately it has been making more headlines in the U.S, most recently with today’s New York Times story on the U.N.’s failure to prevent a “frenzy of rape” in the Congo.
Need to Know’s own interview with Anneke von Woudenberg further explored the Congo’s culture of impunity that has allowed rape to continue. The news is disturbing, but even more harrowing might be the words of the fighters in the Congo themselves, as they candidly explain why they have chosen to rape women during the conflict.
This clip from Lisa Jackson’s 2008 documentary, “The Greatest Silence,” features a group of young male soldiers from the Mai Mai militia group (which was later absorbed into the Congolese army) talking openly about the acts of rape that they themselves had committed. The men discuss why they decided to do it, half-halfheartedly attempt to justify their actions, and disclose how many women they had raped over the years – seven, two, 18 and probably the more telling response: “It’s hard to keep record.”
“We know it’s not a good thing, but what do you expect?” one of them asks. “We spend a long time in the bush and when we meet a woman and she will not accept us, then we must take her by force.”
“Before raping them, I made sure that the women were in good health,” another one adds.
“I’m just doing like everybody else,” another says.
Superstition runs deep in the Mai Mai, and some discuss the belief that raping women would help overcome their enemies in the combat zone. But the morality of the situation is not lost upon these men. “If I found someone on my mother, doing that, I would kill him,” one of the soldiers admits.
The rest of Jackson’s documentary focuses much more on the women and girls whose lives were shattered by the brutality of what they suffered, but this small glimpse into the psychology and attitudes of those who committed the rapes – and who likely continued to doing so after these interviews – brings to light the reminder that there is a human face behind each violation, and a culture of war that continues to allow these crimes to go on unpunished.
(Hat tip to Chris Albon of Conflict Health for the video.)