Colonel Nyiragire “Kifaru” Kulimushi, known as Congo’s “rape Colonel” surrendered in early July together with 116 of his soldiers amid accusations of mass rape and looting.
Kifaru was a former member of the militia Maï Maï, which played a significant, and sometimes problematic, role in the Second Congo War. As a result of a peace agreement and palaver, the Maï Maï militia joined Congo’s national army, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) along with other rebel groups in 2009.
At a military training course in South Kivu in late spring 2011, Kifaru learned that he was to be demoted due to a restructuring within the FARDC. Unwilling to accept the FARDC’s decision, Kifaru and his men defected as a means of protest. In the days that followed, it is alleged that Kifaru and his soldiers looted villages and committed mass rapes. NGO’s estimate that approximately 250 women were raped between June 10-12 in villages of Nyakiele, Kanguli and Abala, all in eastern Congo.
Because the rapes garnered international media attention, government spokesman Lambert Mende, DRC’s Minister of Communications, declared that the national army would begin a manhunt for Kifaru. The army soon managed to locate Kifaru, and he and his men surrendered.
According to AFP, Colonel Sylvain Ekenge, spokesmen for FARDC, indicated that Kifaru and his men were ordered to surrender and did so with no demands. “He did not negotiate the conditions of his surrender because there were no conditions to negotiate…“[w]e gave him the order to come out and he came out of the bush.”
“He said he is afraid and that he had done nothing,” Ekenge added.
A BBC article dated July 8, 2011, reported that the UN held the FARDC responsible for the mass rapes. “[T]he rapes highlighted poor discipline in the army, and the failure to properly vet rebels integrated into the army following a peace deal to end years of unrest.”
Though government authorities are watching the alleged perpetrators, Kifaru and his men are not in detention, as AFP reported that the soldiers are located in an army base in wait for an investigation. As Ekenge told AFP, ”[Kifaru] remains at the disposal of the authorities while waiting for the outcome of a military hearing. He is not in detention.” (See DR. Congo colonel and men accused of mass rape surrenders. AFP, July 8, 2011)
Not the first time…
This is not the first time Kifaru has been accused of involvement in mass rapes. On New Year’s Day 2011, a group of soldiers led by Kifaru’s deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Kibibi Mutware, attacked Fizi, a village in South Kivu. This time, approximately 50 women were raped.
After an investigation, Colonel Kibibi and his group of soldiers were arrested and later convicted after a hearing in military court. Nine of Kibibi’s men were sentenced for crimes against humanity. Colonel Kibibi and three other officers were sentenced to 20 years in prison. Five other officers were sentenced for between 10 and 15 years imprisonment for the same crime. One man was exonerated whilst another one will be charged in a juvenile court.
Brief history of rape in eastern Congo.
Rape as a tactical weapon conflict in DRC can be traced back to the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. Likewise, during the Congo’s eight year Civil War, rape was used as key weapon of war, just as it had been in neighbouring Rwanda.
Although the spillage from the Rwandan conflict is more or less settled the eastern part of Congo, the violence continues because of the region’s vast minerals resources. Today, the Congolese army, rebels, local militias, and warlords continue to vie for control over the mines. Rising conflicts result in risks to the civilians lives and personal safety.
“Because one mine alone can export upwards of ten million dollars worth of minerals per month, rape is the cheapest and easiest means to keep civilians intimidated, humiliated and in a state of constant fear, thus making them completely powerless against the rebels. Civilians who favor an opposing rebel group are often times punished with rape by the group seeking power, often done in a public way in order to shock and destroy the local community.” (See UN admits peacekeeping efforts failed to protect civilians of Eastern Congo from coordinated mass rapes, The Human Rights Blog, Sept. 30, 2010)
In July 2011, the United Nations published a report on mass rapes that occurred last year in villages in North Kivu. The report states that 387 people were raped; among the victims were 44 were children and 23 men.
Experts say that the extent of sexual violence in Congo is to be regarded as a strategic move by the armed forces. The rapes take brutal forms, working as a weapon intended to paralyze, degrade, and weaken communities.
Many of the rape victims are rejected by their husbands and families and often find themselves without legal support. Although men are also victims of rape, it is yet a greater taboo that is rarely discussed. “A recent study found that 24% of men and 39% of women have been raped in Congo while many more cases go unreported.” (See video Nation of Vice – DRC, Journeyman Pictures, 2010.)
Recent reports also show that soldiers and civilian workers in MONUSCO have also been guilty of sexual exploiting the Congolese women by offering food and shelter in return for sex. (See Mass Rape: Time for Remedies, Amnesty International, pg. 15.)
Amnesty International says that the frequency and brutality of the mass rapes is due, in large part, to the government’s inability to find and prosecute human rights abusers. (See New Mass Rapes in DRC are Result of Horrific Failure of Justice, Amnesty International, June 23, 2011) However, some rule of law experts on the ground point to barriers in the Congo’s Constitution, particularly Article 166, which prohibits charges from being brought against government officials without an absolute majority of the National Assembly. (See Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo)
On the right path:
In light of the recent convictions of Colonel Kibibi and others as well as the surrender of Colonel Kifaru, the DRC seems to be moving in a more positive direction in preventing future sexual violence against civilians. As Amnesty International’s DRC Campaigner, Claire Morclette, said, “[The Kibibi] conviction is a step in the right direction…[f]or decades crimes like this have gone unpunished in DRC, their perpetrators never bought to justice. However much remains to be done to ensure victims of gross human rights violations in the country receive justice.” (DR CONGO COLONEL’S RAPE CONVICTION IS FIRST STEP ON ROAD TO JUSTICE, Amnesty International: February 23, 2011)
KÄLLA – Bibliography:
RDC : “Kifaru” et 116 soldats accusés de viols massifs se sont rendus, Jeune Afrique, Aug. 7, 2011.
En RDC, le «colonel Kifaru», présumé coupable de 250 viols, entendu par l’état-major, RFI, 09 Juillet 2011.
DR Congo hunting for colonel suspected of mass rape. The African Confidential.
Congo’s shame: Rape used as tool of war. The Washington Times.
When Rape Becomes a Game. Huffington Post via Enough Project, July 6, 2011.
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