“It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.” (Major-General Patrick Cammaert, OHCHR.org)
Rape has always been used as a weapon of war in major wars including World War 2. However, this phenomenon has always been underreported, and denied by the political leaderships. Mass rape during armed conflicts first gained attention during the war in former Yugoslavia when the Serbian army allegedly used a written plan to ethnically cleanse Bosnia-Herzegovina (Trenholm 2011, pp.139-52). Further, the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia and Rwanda were the first once to address the rape issue during conflicts. Rape is now assumed as a part of armed conflicts. The UN has repeatedly declared ‘rape as a weapon of war.’ The patriarchal system is one of the strong reasons of the prevalence of rape in armed conflicts, where women are considered as a source of honor. Armed groups use rape to humiliate societies by disgracing their women. After rape, these women are not accepted by the society, because they brought shame for them. Eventually, the act of rape shatters the family bond, and tarnishes the fabric of the community.
This research paper is comprised of six main sections. The first section elaborates a brief history of the Congo, and how ruthlessly women have been targeted in the Congo. The research focuses on Congo as it is one of those countries where rape is still being widely used as a war weapon. Research suggests a lacking of effort as far as the international community is concerned for reasons discussed in later sections. The second section contains the motives and impacts of rape in the Congo. The Congolese law of sexual violence is illustrated in the third section of this paper. The fourth and fifth sections elaborate the roles and difficulties of local NGOs in Congo, and also an International organization involved in promoting women rights in the world. The case of Rwanda has been depicted to compare its progress with the Congo in the sixth section of this paper.
- Why and how rape has been used as a weapon of war in Congo?
- What are the impacts of mass rapes on Congolese society?
- How the international community and Congolese government can address this issue?
War in the Congo:
The current plight of Congo cannot be understood without having a brief historical overview of 130 years of war in the territory. War in the Congo can be understood in two dimensions. Firstly, it is a war of natural resources. The Congo is the largest country in the world with immense natural resources, and no functioning government. The region has huge reserves of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, Iron and many other minerals. The Eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) is particularly rich in these minerals and consequently, the main target of armed forces also. These minerals are essential for many leading industries in the West including: aerospace industry, electronics industry, jewel industry, and technology industry. Therefore, its neighboring countries are fighting to obtain maximum benefit from these minerals. Secondly, it is a spillover effect of the war in its neighboring countries. For instance, Burundian civil war in 1993 and Rwandan genocide in 1994 are directly associated with wars in the DRC, because of the refugees coming from these states (Friends of Congo 2011).
Congolese never had a chance to decide their own destiny. In 1885, the national boundaries of Congo were decided in the Berlin conference, in which Congo was awarded to the King Leopold 2 of Belgium as his own personal property. According to historians, he ruled the Congo for 23 years and earned billions of dollars by turning Congolese into forced laborers to gather ivory and produce rubber. In 1908, the Belgian state annexes Congo, due to massive protests against King’s atrocities. The country remained a Belgian colony until 1960, when Congo achieved independence and Patrice Lumumba became the first prime minister of the independent Congo. However, he was assassinated only after a year, in 1961. From 1965 to 1996, Congo was ruled by one of the worst dictator of the world, Joseph Mobotu. In 1996, Uganda and Rwanda invaded the DRC, and the region experienced its first war. The two assailants overthrew the government of President Mobotu with the help of Angola, and installed Laurent Kabila as the president of Congo. However, only after a year, the second Congo war broke out, which is also known as Africa’s World War. This time Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and several other countries supported President Kabila against Uganda and Rwanda, who wanted to overthrow his government. Currently, along with these five invaders, many other political actors and militant groups are still fighting in the Congo. Approximately, six million people have died and thousands of women are raped as a strategy of war (Huening 2010, pp. 129-150; www.bbc.com). These continuous 130 years of war and tyranny have ruined Congolese institutions, destroyed family structures and community systems, and left the nation in a state of extreme apathy.
The Prevalence of Rape in the DRC:
Although, there is no doubt in it that all militant groups and political actors are involved in sexual violence in the DRC, but the exact number of rapes cannot be obtained. The reason behind this lag is that most of the rape victims do not have access to any registration services; and further, these cases are also kept hidden by families. The only statistics found from the two specialized hospitals in Kivu, the Panzi hospital in South Kivu, and the DOCS hospital in North Kivu illustrates that ‘minimum tens of thousands of women’ have been raped between 1996 and 2003 (Pratt & Werchick 2004, p.11). From 2005 to 2007, an NGO Malteser International recorded 20,517 rapes of women in South Kivu (Steiner 2009). Further, from June 2006 to June 2007, UNICEF reported 12,867 rape victims, 33 % of which were children (UN Doc. S/2007/391 2007).
The Rwandan genocide in 1994 was carried out by the militant group Interahamwe, who later fled to the DRC. Originally, these Interhamwe men, along with Rwandan refugees, and former Rwandan military officers started genocidal rapes in the DRC (Maedl 2011, p.134). However, now all armed groups are engaged in this brutal practice. It has been observed by the Human rights watch and Doctors without Borders that women are not just raped by these savage goons, but also tortured before, during and after rape. Their breasts and sensitive parts are cut with razors and machetes. Moreover, a woman being shot in her vagina is a much common practice. One of the fiercest brutalities is that fathers are forced to rape their daughters, and sons forced to rape their sisters and mothers at gun point. Accounts of cannibalism were also reported, where women were forced to eat the bodies of their raped children (Carlsen 2009, p.476). These accounts of brutality show the extent of vulnerability of these women. These armed groups are crossing every limit to humiliate and torture these helpless women, who are neither protected by their own government nor by the International community.
Why Soldiers Rape:
After depicting the heartbreaking situation of sexual violence in the DRC, an obvious question emerges that why do these soldiers use rape as a weapon of war? The concept ‘rape as a weapon of war’ has been widely accepted most recently, but very little work has been done on the drives and motives of rape in the warzone. Of the very few pieces of work on this topic, research conducted by an eminent feminist Cynthia Enloe (2000, pp.111-123) seemed quite relevant to the questions raised in this paper. She explained three different forms of rapes in the warzone: recreational rapes, national security rapes, and systematic mass rapes. The first category is associated with men’s biological sex desire. Soldiers are of a sexually active age and stay away from home for long periods of time. They rape women to fulfill their natural desire of sex. The second category ‘national security rape’ is systematically carried out by the militaries and governments for national security agenda. Strategy of rape is used to humiliate torture and punish radical women from the enemy camps. In this way, military heads target patriarchal societies, in which women’s sexuality is perceived as the source of honor. Systematic mass rapes are used as an instrument of oppression and violence on the base of ethnicity and nationalism (Stiglmayer 1994). This kind of campaign targets the ego of enemy men by proving them as inadequate protectors of their women. They tarnish the family and community structures by creating rifts between males and females.
Lastly, the spread of HIV/AIDS is one of the least highlighted, but most horrific motives of rapes during conflict. The director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has also stated that ‘conflict and HIV are entangled as twin sisters’. In Africa, HIV is used as a psychological and biological weapon of war during conflicts (Nathanson 2000, pp.601-615).
Further, Baaz and Stern (2009, pp. 495-518) have observed more reasons of rape in the DRC, specifically in the case of the State Armed Forces (FARDC). They argue that FARDC officers lack the basic military integration. They are merely bunches of untrained and uncultured people with heavy arms. Their uncivilized behavior leads them to unethical practices like rape, abduction, and burglary. They do not get proper food, facilities and salaries in time. Therefore, they look towards the civilians for their basic needs, including food and sex. It has been observed that most of the rapes are carried out in the evening when female daily wagers are coming back from work with their daily income or in the season of ripe crops. Soldiers rape and torture them to snatch their money for their own needs.
Lastly, the spread of HIV/AIDS is one of the least highlighted, but most horrific motives of rapes during conflict. The director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has also stated that ‘conflict and HIV are entangled as twin sisters’. In Africa, HIV is used as a psychological and biological weapon of war during conflicts (Nathanson 2000, pp.601-615). Spread of HIV can have very long lasting impacts on communities by infusing frustration in them, and ultimately diminishing them. Nothing can be more dangerous than a community where most of the people are AIDS infected and have no hope of life. They can indulge in extreme violence to take revenge from the government for not protecting them, and can cause further spread of the disease as revenge from society. Although, it is not proven, there is little evidence of AIDS being used as a war weapon in Congo also. As one of the Congolese ministers has accused Uganda for deliberately deploying AIDS infected troops in the Congo (Zihindula 1998).
Horrors of Rape in the DRC:
Women of a patriarchal society are the most unfortunate. Since beginning, they are told that they are inferior to men, but at the same time a source of honor for them too. This is the reason that intruders aimed at Congolese women to destroy the fabric of society. Armed men raped women in front of their men for two reasons. First, they targeted man’s ego by proving him helpless and powerless for not being able to protect his honor. Second, they used it as a symbol, as a sign of victory on a community. These raped women are mostly neither accepted by their husbands and children, nor by the other members of the community, and live in isolation for the rest of their lives. This is how the bond of the family, as well as society is shattered.
The impacts of mass rapes can be further elaborated from various dimensions:
Traumatization of the Society:
Traumatization of whole society, females as well as males, is the most dangerous impact of mass rapes. Trenholm (2011 pp.142-44) argues that traumatization is not limited to females only; their male counterparts are sometimes equally traumatized for not being able to protect their women. Traumatization caused by rape leave them dispossessed, and snatches their ability to move forward and rebuild their lives. The post rape trauma is a like a bomb that keeps on exploding time and again, which reflects why rape is such an effective weapon of war (Summerfield 1998, Trenholm 2011). The worst part of trauma is that it is not treated by doctors or society like an illness, because it is not understood properly in a society with so many other problems. Therefore, it leaves the persons shattered for their whole lives.
Children born from rapes are one of the longstanding impacts of sexual violence. These children are hated by the society, as well as their mother, because they remind her of the horrific incident. Women’s husband and society normally take revenge from this child by maltreating him/her. Trenholm (2011 p.144) argues that after the initial trauma, a child born from rape keeps the scar and a sense of powerlessness alive all their lives. However, it cannot be ignored that after a decade or two, the youth of the society would be comprised of these children in a majority, who only received hatred from their people. How can lives of these children be led positively?
There is a high frequency of HIV/AIDS in the armed forces fighting in the DRC. They transfer the disease when they rape a woman. These raped women are not accepted by their husbands for fear of HIV also. HIV/AIDS has been used as a ‘deliberate biological weapon’ of war in Africa to instill anxiety in women. These women are stigmatized and rejected by their society for carrying the virus (Elbe 2002). In this way, mass rapes are not only tarnishing the family structure, but also diminishing the society in a slow pace.
Mass rapes are often carried out to pursue communities to migrate from their original lands. Many communities migrate for the fear of rapes and abduction by military groups. These people then live in camps, where poverty, hunger and disease prevail. Fears of sexual violence deprive them of their houses and resources of living.
In some areas of the DRC, rape has also been used as a tool of genocide. Carlsen (2009 p. 480) claims that although genocidal rape is not prevalent in all parts of the DRC, in some areas a prominent ‘ethnic dimension’ can be observed. According to Amnesty International reports (2004), in the Ituri region, an area known for ethnic differences, women from Hemma, Lendu or other another ethnic group were specifically targeted by military groups. The armed groups are doing genocidal rapes to diminish the societies by humiliating their women.
Sexual Violence Legislation in the DRC:
Old Rape Law:
The old Congolese law on rape mainly follows the nineteenth-century Belgium Colony Penal Code (Cahn 2005, p.228). According to the old law (article 170), ‘any man who had committed rape with violence or serious threats, or by taking advantage of a victim whose faculties were impaired because of disease, accident, or the perpetrator’s own cunning, was susceptible to punishment’. Zongwe (2012, p.43) argues that the Congolese law had penalized rape, but it lacked a ‘precise definition’ of rape. Due to this gap, male judges wrote judgments according to their own perception of the female’s experience. Similar to the old Penal Code of rape, the 2002 Military Code could neither define rape, nor could it elaborate it as a crime against humanity (Zongwe 2012, p.43). It states that “rape or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity knowingly committed in peacetime or wartime in the context of a systematic and widespread attack against a civilian population” (article 169 ). Furthermore, the old rape law had a relatively weaker approach in handling evidence. In spite of the presence of strong evidence, the prosecutor may fail to institute prosecution. Except for mass rapes, typically rape cases lacks strength due to single evidence. Moreover, judges also may not be able to do justice with the rape victim because of gender-biased mentality (Zongwe 2012, pp.44-45). Due to all these shortcomings, rape victims avoid taking their case to judicial system. The long duration of prosecution and ridiculousness by the society does nothing but add to a victim’s trauma.
New Sexual Violence Law:
The Congolese government was forced by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (article 1) to adopt a law that can protect people’s privacy, dignity, peace, and physical integrity. The Congolese Penal Code was amended in 2006, and was called ‘vitendo vaya haya’ ‘the law of shameful acts in Swahili. The amended law not only defines rape properly, but also contains new provisions on rape, assault and sexual violence. The new definition is stronger than that of Rome Statute. The credit for a well-balanced and gender-neutral definition goes to the parliament, NGOs and international criminal courts. The sentence for acts of violence and sexual assault has been increased from six months to twenty years in the amended law (Zongwe 2012, p.45). Further, the Congolese government has also prepared a national strategy to diminish sexual violence.
Weaknesses of the Amended Law:
- The new law has tried to merge the concept of rapes and systematic rapes, which has created a great confusion in legislation.
- Therefore, the definition is not applicable in the military courts.
- The word ‘consent’ is missing in the elaboration of the concept of rape or assault.
In addition to these shortcomings, the Congolese legal system is weak in many aspects. Firstly, the judiciary and courts lack the basic resources, which prevent them from taking cases in large numbers. Secondly, a corrupt country can only foster corrupt institutions. The Congolese judiciary is notorious for its corruption. Even the lawyers and judges are involved in out of court settlements. Thirdly, the new law is not publicized massively by the government, and that is why people are not being able to take full advantage from its provisions. Lastly, the system of collecting and authenticating evidence is very weak and slow, which largely hinders the way to justice (Zongwe 2012, pp.47-51).
Local NGOs in the DRC:
Currently, feminist movements are emerging in the Congo. Women are becoming activists, taking to the streets, organizing events and working to reclaim their lives. Some of these NGOs are supported by the US, while others are independent. A few of these NGOs are:
- Panzi Hospital, Heal Africa, and the City of Joy are three organizations, which are raising awareness in Congolese people about rape as a weapon of war. They heal women’s bodies, deliberately injured during rape, and help them to come out of trauma caused by sexual violence. The women strengthen by these organizations, are also starting feminist campaigns to fight for their rights. However, they are also criticized for prioritizing raped women over others (Cannon 2012, pp.478-83).
- Pigs for Peace (PFP) is helping families in the Eastern DRC to improve their financial, health and social status. NGO grants loans to Congolese women to buy a pig that can generate income for them. Pigs were chosen for this project, because pigs need comparatively smaller space to live and forage, and women do not want to go far away from their houses. Further, pigs have a fast reproductive system; they give birth to 4 to 6 piglets, twice a year (Glass, Ramazani, Tosha, Mapanano, Cinyabuguma 2011, p.192).
- Rama Levina Foundation is a US-based NGO, registered by Congolese lawyers in 2001. The foundation includes a number of doctors, nurses, and community health workers. They provide mobile health care services, which also include HIV and STI testing, medication, counseling and education (Glass, Ramazani, Tosha, Mapanano, Cinyabuguma 2011, p.186).
A number of international organizations are working to protect women rights, and to eliminate sexual violence against women and girls in the world. However, there is no international organization or convention that directly addresses rape as a weapon of war. Moreover, the existing organizations have not been very effective in Congo. This is the reason that the Congolese people suspect the intentions of the West. Financial aid of the US for its ally Rwanda makes their suspicions even stronger. Lastly, the Congolese people understand the fact that they do not need any financial aid from the West, because they are rich in natural resources. Rather, they need the western support to build peace and strong institutions in their country.
There are a number of international organizations that have taken significant steps to protect women rights in many parts of the world.
Geneva Convention 1949:
The Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) was the first international agreement addressing the protection of civilians during the war. It was entered into force in 1954. Most importantly, many of its provisions have achieved the status of customary international law (Fleck 2009, p.24; Scott 2010 pp.246-49). The first protocol to the Geneva Convention was adopted in 1977, which included provisions on the protection of women and children in chapter 2 of section 3 (Treatment of Persons in the power of a Party to the Conflict). Article 76(1) states that “Women shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against rape, forced prostitution, and any other form of indecent assault (Scott 2010 pp.246-49).”
The Convention on Elimination of all kind of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) entered into force on 3rd September 1981. The convention condemned all sorts of women trafficking, exploitation of women prostitution, and any discrimination based on sex. The convention also reaffirmed equality of women with men in front of law. However, a number of countries showed their concern about the convention’s compatibility with Sharia law or traditional customs. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties assured that the reservations should not be indifferent to the ‘objective and purpose’ of the treaty (Scott 2010 pp.221-23).
International Criminal Court:
Rome Statute was adopted by the UN Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the formation of an International Criminal Court on July 17, 1998. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over individuals, but not states, regarding four categories of crimes: genocide; crimes against humanity, including sexual violence and torture; war crimes including, rape and sexual slavery or any kind of sexual violence; and aggression (The Rome Statute of ICC, articles 5-8, pp.248-314). The ICC has its limitations, for instance, it does not have retrospective jurisdiction (article 11). A state can announce while becoming a party to Rome Statute that it does not accept court’s jurisdiction for seven years for war crimes, when the state or its citizens might have allegedly committed that crime (article 124). Furthermore, the US does not support the ICC, because it fears that the ICC might interfere in the Security Council’s peacekeeping missions. However, Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga was the first to be trialed under ICC in 2009 (Scott 2010 pp.251-57).
Resolution 1325 (2000):
Resolution 1325 was adopted by the Security Council on 31st October 2000. It enforces women’s participation in peace keeping, peacemaking, and peace building missions. Further, it also stresses upon women protection from gender-based violence, especially rape and other kinds of sexual abuse, during armed conflict (www.un.org).
Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008):
Resolution 1820 was adopted by the Security Council on 19th June 2008. The resolution not only condemned sexual violence in the period of armed conflicts, but also reaffirmed that all parties should take appropriate action to rescue civilians, including women from all sorts of sexual violence. However, the compliance of this resolution is difficult without a strong accountability system at country level, which is not possible in conflict zones. As retired Major General Patrick Cammart, former Division Commander of the UN also stated that the dangerous trend of ‘impunity’ and lack of political will are the main obstacles in the prevention of sexual violence during wartime (www.un.org; Scott 2010 p.249).
The Case Study of Rwanda:
During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, 250,000 women were raped, thousands fled from the country and approximately one million people were killed. The massacre left the people traumatized. After this great tragedy, Rwanda initiated the processes of peace and justice to make the country livable once again. In the next few years, 120,000 people were arrested and accused of the mass killing. To deal with this extremely high number of perpetrators, Rwanda established three layers of justice system.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR):
The ICTR was formed on November 8th, 1994 by the United Nations Security Council, and it officially closed on December 31st, 2015. The Tribunal is located in Arusha, Tanzania. It has the mandate to ‘prosecute persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of International Humanitarian Law committed in the territory of Rwanda and neighboring states, between January 1st, 1993 and December 31st, 1994.’ Since its opening in 1995, the Tribunal has indicted 93 persons including: politicians, military officers, religious leaders, businessmen, and media heads. Most importantly, it is the first international tribunal to interpret the definition of genocide; and also the first to define rape in International Criminal Law and illustrating rape as a tool of genocide. Three of its landmark judgments include: the conviction of the former mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu for crimes against humanity; the indiction of former Prime Minister Jean Kambada; and the media case (unictr.unmict.org; www.un.org). The justice carried out by the ICTR may or may not bring peace in the country, because achieving peace is a long process. However, bringing the war criminals to the justice system and punishing them is the first step to the road to peace. The UN should consider the option of establishing such a tribunal in Congo also.
The National Court System:
The national courts in Rwanda are prosecuting those accused of genocide and other violations including rape. By 2006, 10,000 war criminals were prosecuted in the national courts. To transfer the genocide cases from ICTR to the national court, the Rwandan government terminated the death penalty in 2007 (www.un.org). For attaining harmony in the country, it is very important to strengthen the judiciary system of the Congo. The institution should be free of corruption, so that people can freely rely on it and open up about their problems.
The Gacaca Courts:
To reduce the burden on national courts, the Rwandan government reestablishes the traditional local courts, known as Gacaca courts, in 2005. These courts prosecuted all cases of genocide, except planning for genocide. Gacaca courts also act as mediator to promote reconciliation in people. These courts were formally closed on 4th May, 2012 (www.un.org). Providing justice at local level is a more convenient and accessible system for local population, because victims may find it difficult to approach national courts for their cases. Justice at all levels can help in rebuilding confidence of the Congolese people on their own government.
Congo vs. Rwanda:
Both the Congo and Rwanda have a long history of colonialism and civil wars. Rwandan women have also endured mass rape campaigns in their country like Congolese. However, for last few years, Rwanda is making efforts to rise once again. Rwanda has not only joined the Commonwealth in 2009, but also assumed a non-permanent seat in the Security Council in 2013-14 terms. Health conditions are also improving in Rwanda. According to a survey in 2014, there are 4,46,600 HIV infected persons in the Congo; whereas half than this, 2,10,500 are HIV infected in Rwanda (www.cia.gov). The plight of women is also getting better. Although, it’s not an ideal example, but Congo should follow the pattern of Rwanda to come out of internal conflicts. The model of Rwanda is better than any other country for Congo, because of similar geographical and cultural conditions. Firstly, Congo needs a comparatively stable government, which Rwanda has already achieved. Secondly, the judicial system needs to be improved, as observed in the case of Rwanda. An international tribunal for Rwanda may also improve the justice system. Thirdly, the Congolese government should prepare a special mechanism to protect their women from sexual violence. Lastly, the international community needs to pacify the internal conflicts in the DRC by invoking R2P.
Women are the most vulnerable in the times of conflict and crisis; in addition to being seen as a commodity as all other resources are depleted. Her role fluctuates, between breadwinners to a source of disgrace for her family. No international organization is effective enough to save women in crisis. The findings of this research include:
- Soldiers rape women in conflict zones as a war weapon, but mass rapes have other motives also. Soldiers might be raping women to fulfill their sexual needs, for economic reasons, to spread HIV, or to displace communities by instilling fear of rape in them.
- Mass rapes are tarnishing the society fabric, because of the mishandling of rape victims in a patriarchal society. Militant groups are aware of the fact that raping a woman is directly associated with the honor of the family, and no one will accept a raped woman. Consequently, the family will fall apart. A number of broken families will give rise to a shattered community. If the society starts accepting rape victims, the number of rapes may reduce.
- The weak judicial system is one of the major causes of sexual violence in the Congo. Despite introducing major amendments in the rape law, the judiciary is still unable to provide justice to rape victims. The reason behind this lag is its fragile institutional structure. A shaky government can only foster weak institutions.
- International organizations have not been able to resolve the issue of Congo, because of the lack of political will. Political actors are not willing to resolve the Congolese issue because of its natural resources. Currently, many armed forces are extracting and selling its natural resources for their own benefits. However, if Congo achieves peace, these other groups would not be able to enjoy these benefits.
- Local organizations are rising, but they need to be supported by the International Community. If the international actors are not willing to help Congo, the internal forces must come forward to play their role in the country’s stability and protect their women.
- Rwanda is not the best example, but it is taking baby steps towards progress. Congo should try their path in their country also.
Firstly, the Congolese need to establish a stable government, because a strong government will build strong institutions in the country. Secondly, the war criminals should be punished without any impunity, to set an example for others. Thirdly, Congolese women should launch strong feminist campaigns for their rights. Lastly, the UN should invoke responsibility to protect in the Congo, and intervene in the country with full force.
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