Marissa introduction



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Congo historical timeline

1878

King Leopold II of Belgium makes plans for colonization of Congo. He commissions former journalist Henry Morton Stanley to ink treaties with local chiefs.



1885

Congo Free State established under Leopold after being formally recognized by European powers at Conference of Berlin.



1890-1908

Belgian forces annex a number of areas of the Congo basin, forcing control of trade. Congolese are pressed into forced labour to harvest rubber and ivory and to build transportation and other infrastructure. Leopold’s enforcement squads kill millions of Congolese. These killings have been compared to the killings of the Holacaust



1908

Reacting to outcry over atrocities committed against Congolese, the Belgian parliament annexes Congo Free State. It is renamed Belgian Congo.



June 30, 1960

The Republic of the Congo gains independence from Belgium. Patrice Lumumba, leader of the Congolese National Movement (the country's first nation-wide party), wins the first national election. The following year he got killed by secessionist on January 16 1961.



July 1960-June 1964

Up to 20,000 UN peacekeepers are sent to the Congo after the newly independent country asks for help resisting Belgian troops. The UN Security Council asks Belgium to withdraw. In the years immediately following independence, a number of secessionists (including foreigners and Congolese nationals) clash with the provisional UN forces for control.



November 1965

Mobutu Sese Seko installs himself as president.



1971-1973

Mobutu changes the country's name to Zaire. It was a dictatorship regime, in which he amassed vast personal wealth, and attempted to purge the country from all colonial influence.



1996-1997

While Mobutu is out of the country, Tutsi rebels take control of a large portion of eastern Zaire. With the help of Rwanda, they take the capital.



May 1997- 2003

The armed conflict in the DRC dates back to 1998. Often described as ‘Africa’s World War’ – as it involves at least nine African nations – this conflict is best understood in the wider context of other local conflicts: the Rwandan genocide, the Sudanese civil war, the Ugandan civil war, and the Angolan civil war . Government forces of these countries and other foreign groups have formed alliances with internal armed groups of the DRC, creating both an internal and an international dimension to the conflict.

When Laurent Kabila, in 1996, decided to overthrow President Mobutu, Zaire’s longstanding dictator, he was backed by the Rwandan Patriotic Army and Uganda’s People Defence Force. Once instated as president, Kabila renamed the country The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Shannon 2011). He then turned his back on Rwanda and Uganda and in 1998 began removing Rwandans from high-ranking positions within his government. This was met with hostility from Rwandan and Ugandan government forces who attempted a coup. Their attempts to remove Kabila from power were unsuccessful. Due largely to the support of Zimbabwe and Angola, Kabila retained his position. The support provided by Zimbabwe and Angola was purely strategic: both countries had vested interests in obtaining access to Congolese minerals in order to rescue their own failing economies.

After their unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Kabila, the governments of Uganda and Rwanda began supporting the various anti-government rebel groups who were fighting against Laurent Kabila’s government in the eastern provinces of the DRC. These rebel groups included the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), as well as the community-based rebel group, the Mai Mai.

Following the assassination of Laurent Kabila, fighting continued against the government led by Joseph Kabila, Laurent’s son. Instability characterized the Congolese government during this period, and anti-government rebel groups, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, used this to their advantage as it effectively enabled them to have control and access to the mineral-rich regions of the Congo.

To complicate matters further, a number of extra-national militia groups are also

involved in the conflict, most notably the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). This group is mainly comprised of Rwandan Interahamwe ge´nocidaires , responsible for most of the killings in Rwanda, who fled into the region following the end of genocide in 1994 . The FDLR resumed their violent campaign against Tutsis in the Congo. With a lack of support from the Congolese government various Tutsi militia groups – most notably the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), led by Laurent Nkunda – began fighting against both the Congolese army and the FDLR.

Extreme levels of violence continue in the eastern provinces of the DRC, with complex and shifting alliances between the Congolese army, the FDLR, Mai Mai groups, and newly emerging rebel groups. With regard to the sexual violence being perpetrated in the DRC, between 2003 and 2006 the International Rescue Committee registered 40,000 cases of gender-based violence in the DRC, which it says ‘is just the tip of the iceberg’. During this period of fighting in the DRC hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped . This includes the sexual exploitation of women and girls as young as six months old. Despite the signing of a peace agreement in 2002, the installation of a transitional government in 2003, followed by general elections in 2006, sexual violence continues to be a major problem in the DRC .In the South Kivu province alone, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006.



2006 - Presidential elections-Joseph Kabila becomes officially the President

2008-2012: Laurent Nkunda is arrested- M23 started a new civil war

2. Gender analysis of the Burundian society

Traditional gender roles have been changing since the last conflict and women have become more politically active and better protected by Law. However, cultural traditions continue to shape gender relations and deeply rooted cultural concepts about the roles of men and women are always difficult to challenge.


‘The hen does not sing when the cockerel is there’ (Inkokokazi ntibika isake iriho)


  • In Burundi’s education and socialization process, children are taught that girls must respect and serve boys and they internalize that women are inferior. Masculinity is linked to power and to responsibility. The husband is responsible for the family and the grown-up son for his parents. While women are “responsible’’ for the household, this means that women are the providers for the daily needs of the family. Despite the central role that women play in the family’s production and reproduction, traditional gender roles hinder them from having any authority in the private sphere in Burundi, and also from having access to resources such as money and property.

  • Women’s presence in the public sphere is limited. In many rather poor families, the confinement of women’s roles to the household and field results in their having restricted access to education and information. Politics is perceived as a male concern. A woman who wants to participate in politics typically has to seek permission from her husband.

  • While the conflict and the peace-building context have brought some positive developments regarding women’s participation in public life, this mostly remains an urban and ‘elite’ phenomenon. Gender roles and expectations appear to differ significantly with education level and age as well as between urban and rural populations. However, regardless of these factors, “traditional expectations of men and women continue to make up the core of Burundian identity”.

  • As far as the latter are concerned, their mothers and uncles traditionally teach future brides to submit to their husband and stay silent, including in case of violence against them. Most women who are abused by their husband or another man may not perceive it as a crime, and even if they do, often do not dare denouncing them out of fear that they will be considered bad wives and be ostracized by the community ( To be included in the slides on factors of SGBV)




  • Two values in Burundian culture are considered more important than individual rights: honour and family cohesion or unity. In the hierarchy of rights, a wife’s rights and needs are last. In this construct, violence against an individual (especially sexual violence), and particularly the denunciation of violence committed within the family, is first considered as reflecting negatively on the honour and the cohesion of the victim’s family, instead of being considered as a criminal act


2.Factors contributing to the perpetuation of SGBV/Domestic violence in Burundi

  1. Culture, traditions, attitudes.

  • After the war, the predominance of female headed households, the status of Burundian women, the economic situation and an erosion of traditional values all contributed to the persistence of SV and domestic violence (DV) against women in the society.

  • The first two factors that has had a large impact on the tradicional burundian society, as well as its community structures and values are : the Colonization and Christianization . When it came to SV & DV, traditionally, communities had very strict and effective mechanisms to deal with perpetrators, which often resulted in excluding the perpetrators from the comunity. For example “Collines” or “Hills” were led by a group of traditional Chiefs, named “ Abashingandahe” . They were chosen as community leaders on the collines. They still exist today but their power has been taken away by the elected officials put in place by the Burundian government, which had an impact on their ability to influence the prevention and response to sexual violence. Now at the colline level, there is a group of 5 “chefs collinaires” who are elected by the population. These 5 chiefs have more power in decision making then “ Abashingandahe”.

  • The third factor which perpetuates SGBV & DV is the inferior status of women within the family and in the Burundian society, values and cultural beliefs favor the submission of the woman. In fact, the basic, structural causes for SV in Burundi lie in the inherent gender inequality derived from a patriarchal system. For instance, girls are less valued than boys to the extent that a woman can be chased away from her community if she gives birth only to girls.

  • Also unequal access to formal education and high dropout rates of girls, especially in rural areas, remain a problem, even though the overall rate of girls with primary schooling has improved significantly in the last decade. In 2005, statistics have shown that 54.3% of girls had primary schooling, and in 2009, 89% had primary schooling.

  • However, early pregnancy and the excessive household chores contribute to a higher illiteracy rate amongst women and girls. Women are also economically disadvantaged in part due to the large burden of household tasks paired with unequal access to remunerated job opportunities.

  • Furthermore, women have no decision making power within households, property is usually owned by men and men also have full power and “ownership” over the children. Even though women cultivate the land, they have no right to own or to inherit it. Lastly, inequality and disempowerment of women is also reflected in sexual relations. Women cannot refuse sex, nor negotiate the manner in which sex occurs.

  • Another problem important problem regarding SGBV in Burundi is that Sex and sexuality related issues are a taboo. Topics around sexuality are not talked about within families nor in schools.

  • Traditionally it was an aunt, and in some cases the mother, who used to educate girls regarding sexuality, but this tradition has since been lost. Today, families assume that children get this education in schools and that their children are better informed than they are, which results in no one talking to children about sexuality or HIV prevention. Interestingly there is a life skills program in schools; however, it does not include these issues and is not taught with the proper methodology. It is very difficult to talk about sex in our society, especially when men and women are together. When this is the case, women will not talk at all and be embarrassed; and girls will not talk about it for fear of “getting a reputation”.

  • The perfect exemple that shows how sex is taboo in Burundi, is the word we use for rape : “Gufata Kunguvu” which is the term used in Kirundi to talk about a rape and does not have any sexual connotation. It means “take by force”.

  • In the same way that Burundians do not talk about sex, they also do not talk about sexual violence nor domestic violence. This contributes to the prevalence of sexual violence.

  • Also the fact that rape victims are stigmatised, and also that husbands chase their wives who have been raped from their home, and the lack of victim protection contribute to reluctance to report sexual violence and ultimately to its impunity.

  • Last but not least, there are strong social norms that stipulate, “a man is not a real man unless he beats his wife” and “if not the husband who else would discipline a woman?” also contribute to the prevalence of sexual violence, gender-based violence and domestic violence.

3. Harmful Traditional Practices

  • Regarding harmful traditional practices, it should be noted that the perception of the inferior status of the woman is reinforced by certain customs, such as the dowry and the right of the man to “correct” his wife. With regards to the dowry, women become part of the family of their husbands and are obligated to obey their mother in laws in the absence of their husbands, and sometimes even to have sexual relationships with other male members of the family. I am going to talk about 5 current specific forms of SV & DV that take place in the Burundian context particularly in houselholds:

  • Kubangura: forced sexual relations before giving birth

  • Gukanda: forced sexual relations after childbirth

  • GuteraIntobo: forced sexual relations between a woman and her father-in-law

  • GushingaIcumu : forced sexual relations between a woman and her brother-in-law

  • Kukibikira : rape of a widow by making threats to her safety. This is done in order to make sure that the widow does re-marry and stay in the family.

4. The Impact of the War & Impunity

  • A part from all these tradicional practices, the civil war has been also considered as an important factor in the perpetuation of SV and DV against women in Burundi.

  • War had an impact since the rule of law was missing for a long time and people did what they wanted. This continues to influence Burundian society even today. Even though, SV & DV existed to some extent befote the war against women it was considered as a consequence of the armed conflict.

  • The war in Burundi exacerbated this violence and displaced large populations of women and girls to communities often with no common, shared social norms, or with new social norms where violence, sexual violence and domestic violence was acceptable. Women suffered from rape, which was used as a weapon of war, and from other brutalities, massacres and looting, forced enlistment and forced displacement.

  • Regarding the issue of impunity, The Ministry of Justice in Burundi often cites the release of the perpetrators of sexual violence by police as a key factor contributing to the impunity of sexual violence. Impunity is a major factor contributing to the perpetuation of SV &DV. Law enforcement personnel and the judiciary, as well as to corruption among them, can attribute impunity, to the trivialization of SV & DV cases often receive no follow up unless a civil society organization has provided legal assistance.

  • Furthermore, survivors fear the repercussions of reporting sexual violence and thus have a tendency to withdraw their complaints. If they withdraw their complaint, according to the current legislation, the criminal procedure is then terminated.

5. Is there progress?

  • Seruka – which means ‘coming out of the dark’ – is the name of the MSF clinic for rape victims in Bujumbura, the capital. MSF opened Seruka in 2003, after medical teams working in its centre for war-wounded people observed an increasing number of rape victims amongst patients. An assessment showed that although sexual violence was a common phenomenon, medical care for rape victims was not available. To date, the MSF team working in Seruka has seen almost 7,000 victims of sexual violence. In 2009, the center was taken over by ISV By mid-2009, ISV (Initiative Seruka pour les Victimes de Viol), a Burundian association formed by staff working in the center.

  • Seruka Center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide emergency and follow-up care for victims of sexual violence. Although most patients come from the capital Bujumbura, Seruka attracts victims of sexual violence from all over the country.

How does the center works?

  • Patients are first seen by a nurse at the triage area, where little is asked about the rape because there is not enough privacy in that area. In the same area they try to identify whether they are coming for a different reason. If it is unrelated to sexual violence then they are refer them to another health facility. At the triage, patients receive the first dose of antiretrovirals to prevent hiv.

  • A team of psychologists helps patients deal with the trauma of rape and prevent psychological disorders that commonly arise from it. Apart from fear of HIV, they are normally terrified about becoming pregnant. They also have a very strong feeling of dirtiness and they wonder if they should tell anybody about the rape. They have flashbacks, difficulties sleeping and are afraid of being ostracized in their communities.

  • Seruka also offers follow-up care, though ensuring that patients take advantage of this option is a challenge. Less than half of the patients attend the one-month follow-up visit, and 1/ 10 return one year later. Distance and cost of transport make attending follow-up appointments difficult, as 40% of victims live outside Bujumbura. Seruka will contribute towards the cost of transportation as needed so the patient can attend consultations. Lack of awareness of the importance of follow-up care can also prevent patients from returning. Once they receive their antiretrovirals and the morning after pill, and receive medical care in the case of physical injuries, they do not see the need to come back.

  • Emergency shelter is available for those who need a place to stay. Sometimes, by the time they finish the consultations in the center, it is too late to go home. Or maybe they feel too scared or shocked to go back immediately. Nowadays its difficult for the patient to stay a long time at the shelter because the center does have enough funds to cover the costs.

  • If a victim wants to press charges against a perpetrator, a medical-legal certificate is issued in the centre, free of charge. In Burundi, medical-legal certificates are only valid if given after the patient has been to the police. As all the relevant details from the medical consultation are recorded in the patients’ files, if a rape victim goes to the police and decides to press charges at a later stage, the doctor is able to issue the certificate based on the consultation record.

  • Seruka treated 6,800 victims of sexual violence between 2003 and 2008. Every month, about 130 new victims of sexual violence seek care at the center; 81% arrive within 72 hours of the rape.

  • Behind the success of raising awareness about care for victims of sexual violence is a team of health promoters who work in the clinic and in the streets of Bujumbura. They have formed networks of women who were victims of sexual violence in different communities who help raise awareness of rape and other forms of sexual violence by giving testimonies, visiting women in the community and working as focal points for support. Every week, the health promotion team organizes activities in different communities. They hold morning sessions in the clinic for patients to tell them about the care they are about to receive. Information about Seruka and rape is also broadcast on the radio and highlighted during “16 Days of activism”, a series of events that takes place every December to highlight and address the issue of violence against women.

Change in Profile, Change in Care

  • Since Seruka was launched in 2003, MSF teams have witnessed a marked change in the circumstances of rape and the profile of the aggressors in Burundi. Since the end of the war and through the post-war transition period, the number of assaults committed by non-civilians has decreased significantly. Today, an average of 90% of those seeking care at Seruka have been raped by a civilian. Of these, two-thirds of the rapes are perpetrated by somebody known to the family or family member. Threats of violence with weapons and gang rapes, characteristic of the military conflict, have also decreased. The profile of the victim has shifted.
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