Congo: religious leaders voice concern at 'epidemic of sexual violence'

 Leaders of the religious congregations working in the Province of Katanga, in the eastern part of Congo have issued a statement through Fides protesting at the huge amount of sexual violence taking place in the region. The Major Superiors say they cannot remain silent, "before this inhumane and unjust situation.. marked by all kinds of violence, repeated cases of sexual abuses, and the total lack of respect for the lives of our brothers and sisters." In spite of the peace agreement signed in 2003 and the elections of 2006, eastern Congo is continually plagued by the presence of gangs and armed groups who are terrorising the local population. In particular, sexual violence has escalated, reaching alarming rates. Experts believe it is being used as a weapon used to force people to leave the land they live on. In their statement, the leaders say the cases of sexual violence are "so alarming that they constitute a tragedy similar to an 'epidemic,' whose extermination should be a concern for everyone." They say: "not only are a majority of the crimes are left unpunished, but those who commit them do so without any fear of the consequences. We deplore the culpable indifference, both on the part of the civil authorities, as well as on the part of the international community, in the midst of one of the worst catastrophes in the history of humanity." "The situation has already passed the limit: what will tomorrow bring? The people of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo demand justice: it is inhumane to continue turning a deaf ear to their cry of pain." The major superiors recognize the work of "numerous non-governmental organizations, of social groups, and health care centres and Church projects that offer support to a large number of the victims." But, they say, much more must be done. "It seems clear, by the judgements of more than one expert, that sexual violence is being use as a terrible weapon to annihilate an entire population. Given the impunity enjoyed by the criminals who commit these acts, we are wondering if this practice may not be consciously desired and funded by persons in search of power or, perhaps, by internal and external forces whose intentions remain hidden." The superiors of the religious congregations propose some recommendations, to deal with the crisis, including: the application of existing articles of Constitution intended to extend peace and guarantee the people's security; reform and activation of the judicial system; juridical and cultural reforms, so that a woman may not be considered inferior to her own husband; the creation of governmental institutions that care for the victims; and rigid law enforcement for criminals indicted for sexual crimes. Source: Fides