Silent No More: Congolese Rape Survivors Speak Out

December 16, 2008
Child Runs Past UN Helicopter in Eastern Congo

About the Author: Claudia E. Anyaso serves as Director of Public Diplomacy for the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs.

On December 2, the Bureau of African Affairs and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) in collaboration with the Enough Project hosted a State Department showing of The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo– a powerful film about a disturbing subject. Because events in the film are so difficult for many to contemplate, I was reluctant to approve the film showing. In the end, however, I gave the go-ahead, because I decided the producer was right: as many people as possible should be made aware of the widespread sexual violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The rightness of the decision was borne out by the overwhelming response to the film and to the panel discussion with producer/director Lisa Jackson; Enough Project director John Norris; and Raise Hope for Congo campaign manager Candice Knezevic.

While much remains to be done to effectively address the humanitarian crisis and the endemic rape in eastern Congo, panel moderator Lou Mazel pointed out some of the things the U.S. government is doing to help. For example, in FY 2008 and the first seven weeks of FY 2009, the USG has provided $22 million in humanitarian assistance to the DRC, mostly for the conflict-affected populations of North and South Kivu provinces, where the continued fighting between the Congo’s military, rebels, and militia continues to result in widespread human rights abuses, including thousands of rapes each year, perpetrated by all sides with impunity. The U.S. continues to fund programs, including one based in North Kivu, that train judges and police in effective methods to investigate and prosecute gender-based violence and that enable survivors of gender-based violence to gain access to the judicial system. The USG is also supporting African involvement in finding a solution, including recent meetings in Nairobi, the SADC summit and appointment of former Nigerian President Obasanjo as the UN Special Envoy for the Congo. The USG is working closely with allies and the international community to resolve this crisis. We are very pleased with the UN Security Council vote in November to expand the peacekeeping mission in the Congo, MONUC, by approximately 3,000 UN peacekeeping soldiers and police. These additions will enable MONUC to better carry out its civilian protection mission and, we hope, open up humanitarian zones that will be free from fighting and where NGOs and governmental humanitarian agencies can serve the people, including the rape victims in the Congo.

Learn more about what activists are doing to help raise awareness, raise their voice, and raise the profile of the conflict and widespread sexual violence against women and girls in the Congo.



New Mexico, USA
December 16, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Claudia, I'm somewhat puzzled by the following statement, though I can understand why the shear scale and extent of what can only be called "organized rape" as a form of terrorism may be hard to grasp.

"Because events in the film are so difficult for many to contemplate, I was reluctant to approve the film showing."

But what puzzles me is the reluctance to put the truth on display, as it were.

I'm not trying to be critical in any way, I guess you had a perfectly human reaction to the raw truth, and it's not an easy thing to have one's faith in humanity shattered by the reality of mankinds's capability to inflict cruelty.

I didn't apply to the Foreign Service with any illusions, as I've already had my faith in humanity shattered and restored a number of times, and enough already for one lifetime.

And I may apply again, because I'm essentially an optimist...(chuckle). Long odds indeed arn't want to deter me.

But all that aside, you got the job and I'm glad you made the correct decision.

See, the bottom line for this citizen is the simple fact that I wanted to go to work for the one group of folks beyond all the NGO's, activists, and committees in the UN that consistantly lead the world in shining a bright spotlight on the truth.

Can't make a difference without that commitment.

I think everyone finds their own tolerance to what they can stand to become witness to before losing one's lunch, so to speak...litterally.

And as for grasping the truth...

Folks will somehow manage to pick themselves up and carry on, as Churchill put it.

It's not something for you to worry about or be concerned with offending anyone's sensibilities over.

It's the world we live in, and the status quo is unacceptable to anyone with a heart.

best regards,


December 17, 2008

John in Greece writes:

Rapes in Africa constitute a very complicated nightmare and unfortunately they have a domino effect concerning another "bad dream" of the continent: AIDS.

Recently, in DipNote we had a very interesting discussion concerning World AIDS Day: Continuing the Fight. There is no doubt that these two issues are series of rings making up a more terrifying chain effect on the ground that rapes "create" unwilling pregnancies and these pregnancies boost the AIDS's vertical transmission. (HIV can be spread to babies born to, or breastfed by, mothers infected with the virus.)

I do not attempt to change this very interesting subject (rapes) of course. I just felt to highlight this parameter too.

Tennessee, USA
December 17, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

You can use the word Evil or Control. If the end result is for negative structuring, we generally use the word evil -- and this is evil.

A method of control can be established by creating Chaos in both the individual and larger social structures. The keystone is the creation of insecurity and elimination of value or self worth.

By keeping any positive insight of self or self worth, an easy path for indoctrination exists, in this case creating slavery in the worst manner possible. It also leaves a void where hope is almost nonexistent except on a primal level: The only solution is an end by elimination of the intruder; thus war continues.

This problem relates and contributes greatly to the overall non identity of the African continent as one people, even within the borders of one Country therein.

New Mexico, USA
December 17, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

For the suggestion box:

"Ben Affleck has directed a film shot in the Congo to help raise money for the UN Refugee Agency.

Teaming up with Sir Mick Jagger, Affleck told the BBC that he hoped the film would increase awareness about the crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo."
-BBC, Dec. 17,2008


I think it would be good to invite Ben and Sir Mick for a pod-cast.

South Carolina, USA
December 22, 2008

Russell in South Carolina writes:

Organized or systematic rape as a tool of oppression is, unfortunately, not a new practice. The Romans used this tactic at the rise and during part of the apex of their dynasty. It was seen as a viable means of accomplishing two things. The first was that it gave the Romans a sense of dominion over the people they sought to oppress. The second was that it rendered most victims void of dignity and self worth. In the absence of dignity and self worth the victims feel helpless and sometimes convince themselves that they deserve such inhumane treatment. These two things gave the Romans power over their victims. A power borne of fear.

In my opinion, this is exactly what the Congolese rapists are seeking to do. They're seeking to crush an already down trodden people. It saddens me to see the progression of the human race tarnished with such cruel acts barbarism.

District Of Columbia, USA
January 12, 2009

Anna in Washington, DC writes:

Any nation that does not protect the rights of its women will not advance. Heartbreaking. I hope this film motivates governments and individuals to act.


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