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Exposure to Violence

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Respondents were asked if they experienced various exposures to trauma over the course of the conflicts in eastern Congo.[1] The majority of respondents reported having lacked basic needs such as water and food (87%), health care when needed (83%), and housing (74%).[2] They also reported the looting of cattle (76%), destruction or confiscation of their houses (66%) or land (54%), and the destruction and looting of other goods (83% and 86%, respectively).

Table 9: Lack of basic needs and general exposure to violence

Table 9 - Lack of basic needs and general exposure to violence

As the table below reveals, respondents in eastern DRC very frequently experienced direct exposure to violence. About half of them had been interrogated or persecuted by armed groups (55%), threatened with death (46%), or beaten by armed groups (46%). Many respondents reported having been abducted for at least a week during the course of the conflicts (34%), forced to carry loads (53%), or forced to work or enslaved (53%).[3] This very high rate could be explained by the close relationship between the conflict, control over portions of the territory by armed groups, and the exploitation of the natural resources, notably mines, in such territory. Many armed groups are known to have abducted people, and forced them to work, carrying loads, so as to exploit the natural resources located in the portion of the territory they controlled. Almost half of those surveyed had family members abducted (48%) and even more had family members that went missing at some point during the conflicts (60%). The current status of family members that had gone missing was not assessed. Respondents included combatants and former combatants: about one out of eight respondents (13%) said they had fought or participated actively in combat; about half of those said they had been forced to do so (7%). On average, the level of violence appeared to be highest in South Kivu, followed by North Kivu and Ituri.

Table 10: Physical violence and forced conscription

Table 10 - Physical violence and forced conscription

While this survey was not designed to provide mortality estimates, it asked respondents about deaths in their household and among family and friends. Overall, 42 percent reported the violent death of a household member, and 61 percent reported the violent death of other family members or friends.

Table 11: Deat-related exposure to violence

Table 11 - Deat-related exposure to violence

The conflicts in DRC have been accompanied by extremely high rates of rape and sexual violence.[4] Rape and sexual violence are typically underreported due to the stigma and shame involved, making it particularly difficult to assess its prevalence. The survey asked respondents several questions regarding “sexual violence,” purposely leaving the term “sexual violence” undefined.[5] Nearly one out of four respondents (23%) said they had witnessed sexual violence. As many as 16 percent of respondents reported having been sexually violated, several respondents multiple times (12%). The frequency of exposure to sexual violence was similar among men and women. In-depth discussions indicated that, in addition to direct exposure to sexual violence, men who reported sexual violence may have been referring to their wives’ or daughters’ experience or the fact that they were forced to witness such acts.

The survey results reveal that the situation in South Kivu is even graver than in the other surveyed regions, confirming reports of the high prevalence of rape and sexual violence as a tool of conflict in South Kivu.[6] Over 20 percent of the respondents had been sexually violated (22%), often several times (18%), and over 30 percent witnessed sexual violence (30%).

Many of the victims of sexual violence are victimized twice, for they face rejection from their household or community after being victims of sexual violence. Overall, over 14 percent reported being rejected from their household or community after being victim of sexual violence (15%). Again, this was even worse in South Kivu, where over 20 percent suffered such rejection (21%).

Table 12: Sexual violence

Table 12 - Sexual violence

The survey results suggest that reintegration of victims of sexual violence into their communities and families is problematic. Three out of four respondents said they would accept victims of sexual violence returning to their community or household. In other words, a quarter or more of the respondents would not accept victims of sexual violence back in their community or family. Fewer (65%) said they would accept the return of such a victim who had a child as the result of the violence.

Table 13: Reintegration of victims of sexual violence

Table 13 - Reintegration of victims of sexual violence

[1] A 15-year recall period was used to cover the period starting just before the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and subsequent arrival of Rwandan refugees.

[2] According to the International Rescue Committee and the Burnet Institute’s recent mortality survey from January 2006 to April 2007, only 0.4% of all deaths in DRC are directly attributed to violence. The remainder, 99.6%, are due to infectious diseases, malnutrition, and neonatal- and pregnancy-related conditions. They attributed this to disruption of health services, food insecurity, deterioration of infrastructure, and population displacement. See International Rescue Committee and Burnet Institute, “Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: An Ongoing Crisis” (2007).

[3] This is higher than the rate found in northern Uganda, where abduction has been associated with the forced recruitment of soldiers by the Lord’s Resistance Army. See Pham PN, et al., “When the War Ends. A Population-Based Survey on Attitudes about Peace, Justice, and Social Reconstruction in Northern Uganda,” Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley; Payson Center for International Development, Tulane University; International Center for Transitional Justice, New York (2007) and Pham PN, Vinck P, Stover E, “The Lord’s Resistance Army and Forced Conscription in Northern Uganda,” Human Rights Quarterly 30/2 (May 2008): 404–11.

[4] Doctors Without Borders, “Democratic Republic of Congo: Rape as a Weapon in North Kivu,” MSF-USA: Field News, 19 July 2006. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone. In the town of Shabunda, Maltaiser International found that 70 percent of the women reported being sexually brutalized. See Jeffery Gettleman, “Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War,” New York Times, 7 October 2007.

[5] Respondents’ understanding may therefore vary and may or not be limited to rape.

[6] “Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Ertürk: Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo,” UN Doc A/HRC/7/6/Add.4 (28 February 2007).