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One Man's Mission: Stop Rape in Congo

By Lane Hartill

Honoré Bisimwa may have the most difficult job in Congo.

Honoré Bisimwa

Honoré Bisimwa works for CRS' partner, the Olame Center in Bukavu, informing armed groups about rape laws and consequences. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

He travels to the most dangerous, war-racked corners of eastern Congo and meets with both government soldiers and those who oppose them. He often does this just before they go to the battlefield, when they are full of brio and adrenaline, at their most hyped-up state.

Then he tells them why they shouldn't rape.

"If someone did this to your wife, what would be your first reaction?" he asks them. "It touches their heart. It affects their conscience and their feelings."

Honoré works for the Olame Center, a local organization run through the Archdiocese of Bukavu that focuses on women's issues. They have microfinance projects and develop women's leadership skills. But in the last few years, after seeing the number of rape cases increase, they decided to address the source of the problem: the armed groups who rape.

"It's making them aware, as human beings, of the act that is being done against our fellow human beings," says Honoré. "If you were in [the woman's] place," he asks the men, "what would you do?"

Then he cites graphic examples of rape that have occurred in Congo.

'This is a Crime'

"Then I ask them: Is this an act of violence or something else? The majority say this is a crime," he says.

Yunga Mulogoto is a rape outreach volunteer in Lemara, a mining town in South Kivu. He's also a pastor and a father of six children. He was trained by the Olame Center to teach the citizens of Lemara about rape.

A commander in one of the armed opposition groups heard about a recent sermon that Yunga had given about rape. In it, he talked about the physical and psychological effects of rape on the woman and the man. The commander was so impressed, he asked Yunga to give a talk to his men. When he finished, the commander told his men that they would be punished if they raped.

"We start by explaining to them: Who is man?" says Yunga. "Women have the same spirit of God in them as you do."

Rape in Congo: Grim Statistics, Tender Lives

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Read Anastasie Balingene's story.

For the Congolese military, says Captain Venancie Bitondo, who was also trained by the Olame Center, the punishment is now made clear. "We tell [soldiers] if they rape, they will be sentenced," she says. "They are now afraid of raping."

Still, she says, she doesn't let her 14-year-old daughter go out after 6 p.m.

It's impossible to verify if rapes have decreased in Lemara, where Venancie and Yunga work. Statistics show they are still happening at an alarming rate in certain parts of the province. But Venancie claims that in the battalion to which she is assigned, rapes have greatly diminished. She admits, however, that there are battalions that don't have delegates trained by the Olame Center. The Olame Center has trained 20 military and 27 civilian delegates.

Venancie believes that a combination of things need to happen for rape to stop: Soldiers need proper military training (many soldiers are not well trained), and every battalion should have a delegate trained by the Olame Center. It would help, too, she adds, if salaries were paid on time and soldiers given adequate annual leave.

When asked when was the last time she'd been paid, Venancie pauses.

"It's been three months," she says.

Lane Hartill is the western and central Africa regional information officer for Catholic Relief Services. He is based in Dakar, Senegal.

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