By Amani Matabaro
South Kivu, a province in eastern Congo, is made up of eight territories, among which is Mwenga. Surrounded with thick forests and jungles, Mwenga is southwest of the provincial capital of Bukavu. It is one of the areas in eastern Congo most affected by war, by the unspeakable abductions, rape, looting, and killings by the rebel group FDLR, which has links to some of the people who carried out the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
One day in January, a Congolese army brigade was carrying out a day patrol in an area called Mulambozi when they came across seven women and 17 children associated with the FDLR. Just one rebel was guarding them. Reportedly, the FDLR had left early in the morning to look for food. The Congolese army took the group of women and children in order to repatriate them back to Rwanda. On the way back to the Congolese army camp, one of the FDLR women asked for permission to use the toilet but came back with a hand gun. The soldiers shot her.
The following day, FDLR elements angrily started a search for their people in the forest and surroundings. The rebels ran into 19 innocent women coming from the market. They stopped the women, selected eight of the younger ones and released the rest, after robbing them of everything. Those set free were told to report to the entire village and army that the FDLR had killed the rest of the women because their husbands had directed the Congolese army to the rebels’ position in the jungle.
The eight women were subjected to gang rape and then cruelly beaten to death. The FDLR did not use any guns to kill them, but beat them and injured them with machetes and knives, mutilating their bodies. The rebels left the eight women in the forest, thinking all of them were dead. Three of them did not pass away immediately. One of the survivors succeeded in crawling to the nearest village and reported the incident to the community members. Together, with the support of government soldiers, the community went to rescue the two other women, who could not even move because they were half dead. They took them to the closest health facility in Bisembe and then to the Mwenga hospital. A week later, the local leaders took them from Mwenga to Panzi hospital.
In an interaction with the Panzi hospital psychosocial service provider, I learned that the survivors are still there but that there is hope because they are rebuilding their physical and emotional lives. Each day, they are gradually getting better than the day they reached the hospital. It will take time for them to recover. They were severely traumatized and physically injured.
I recently met with Mrs. Kajuru (not her real name) who is an activist and had led the rescue team to the three survivors. Here was our conversation:
Me: How are you?
Mrs. K: Not really fine, things are getting worse and worse around here.
Me: What’s wrong again?
Mrs. K: Another case of rape again in Kitamba. A woman who gave birth only two weeks ago has just been subjected again to gang rape by the FDLR this morning. Hopefully they did not kill her. She was just admitted to Mwenga hospital and she’s under treatment.
Mrs. Kajuru spoke to me in a very serious and worried tone. I was humbled and I had to say good-bye when her eyes are filled with tears.
Countless innocent children are left as orphans; so many women are raped and left as widows. Community members are witnessing incredible atrocities. It is the entire Congolese society that is being victimized, damaged by the barbarism of this armed group.