Combating sexual violence in the DR Congo and Great Lakes region

The DR Congo and the Great Lakes region is probably the part of the world where sexual violence in conflict is most widespread today. The Ministry has for many years provided support for Norwegian NGOs working to combat sexual violence in this area, particularly in the eastern Congo. In 2010, a project was established to strengthen these efforts.

The DR Congo and the Great Lakes region is probably the part of the world where sexual violence in conflict is most widespread today. The Ministry has for many years provided support for Norwegian NGOs working to combat sexual violence in this area, particularly in the eastern Congo. In 2010, a project was established to strengthen these efforts.

 

The project on combating sexual violence, which must be seen in the context of the Ministry’s work on women, peace and security, was launched in 2010. The objective is to ensure a more strategic and better coordinated Norwegian effort to combat sexual violence in the Great Lakes region, with particular focus on DR Congo. Hundreds of thousands of women, and also children and men, have been subject to sexual violence in DR Congo since 1996 when the first Congo War broke out. In other countries in the region, such as Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, sexual violence is a major problem also in peacetime.  

(Photo: Christian Relief Network (CRN))

The Norwegian funds are mainly channelled through NGOs such as Christian Relief Network (CRN), Norwegian Church Aidthe international Red Cross movement and CARE, all of which work in close cooperation with local communities. Funding is also provided for the UN cooperation with the Congolese authorities. Norway coordinates its efforts closely with other key donors and the international community.

Follow-up of victims
Norwegian funding has contributed to medical and psychosocial treatment to thousands of women, children and men who are survivors of sexual violence, as well as assistance to return to their communities. Child soldiers, particularly girls who are often kept as sex slaves, have special needs. Amongst other things, Norway has through CRN supported the modernisation and expansion of the Kyeshero hospital in Goma, which specialises on women’s health. Other important efforts for women and children are training health workers and improving health services, including in rural and isolated areas.

Preventive and awareness-raising efforts
Preventive and awareness-raising efforts are vital in order to reduce the risk of sexual violence. Such efforts are also important factors in the process of strengthening women’s position in society. The Ministry supports several projects in DR Congo and neighbouring countries, including gender awareness programs aimed at men, such as CRN’s fatherhood project. Support for conflict-reducing activities and advocacy work such as CARE’s regional project in Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, training programmes for military personnel, and cooperation with networks of churches helps to raise awareness about sexual violence.

Holding perpetrators accountable is crucial in order to combat sexual violence. Impunity for such crimes is widespread in DR Congo. Information work, training members of the judiciary, opportunities for legal assistance and access to mobile courts increases knowledge of and access to the judicial system. The Ministry supports this work through the American Bar Association. Protection of witnesses and officials in high-profile cases relating to sexual violence and other serious abuses is an important element in the fight against impunity. Norway, together with the US, is supporting a witness protection programme organised by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the UN Human Rights Office in DR Congo.

UN efforts in DR Congo
The UN and the Congolese authorities have together drawn up the Comprehensive Strategy Against Sexual Violence. Norway has provided expertise in developing the strategy, and support for its implementation. This strategy ensures ownership of the Congolese authorities and promotes coordinated efforts.

In accordance with Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, Norway and other donors are assisting in promoting the role of women in peace and reconciliation processes, and to increase focus on the protection of women in conflict situations.  Information campaigns on the rights of women and awareness-raising efforts are means of achieving this. Norway has drawn up a national strategy for the follow up of SCR 1325, and sexual violence is one of five focus areas. The DR Congo has also developed a national strategy on SCR 1325. Norway has been at the forefront of efforts in the UN to strengthen the follow up of SCR 1325 and other resolutions relating to sexual violence, such as SCR 1820, 1888 and 1960. SCR 1820 and 1888 establish that rape may be considered a weapon of war. Norway has provided strong support for the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström. UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict brings together 13 UN entities to coordinate and strengthen the UN’s efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict, and is supported by Norway.

Conflict minerals
Insurgent groups and government forces control parts of the minerals trade in resource-rich eastern Congo. This is an important driver of the conflict and exposes the civilian population to sexual violence. Therefore the efforts to combat sexual violence are linked to fight against illegal trade in conflict minerals. Norway takes part in the international working group on illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Great Lakes region together with the EU, the UN, the US and others. The OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas is supported by Norway. Norway also supports the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, ICGLR. ICGLR has drawn up strategies for combating sexual violence and illegal trade in minerals. In April 2011, there was a debate in the Norwegian Parliament on conflict minerals and sexual violence in DR Congo, which you can read here (Norwegian only).

(Photo: Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project/
Conflict minerals 2010/Flickr)

Research
It is important to learn more about the causes of sexual violence and how it best can be reduced. The Ministry has supported various research projects related to sexual violence, including research on the reintegration of girl soldiers and the role of religious networks in society. Norad has launched a project to integrate research results into NGOs’ efforts to combat sexual violence in the Great Lakes region.

Sexual violence in post-conflict situations – Liberia
Sexual violence is a widespread problem in many areas and countries worldwide that have emerged from conflict.  These abuses can be seen in connection with and as a legacy of extensive sexual violence in conflict. In addition, women and children are particularly vulnerable to abuse in societies with a generally high level of violence and traditional gender roles. In addition to the Great Lakes region, efforts to combat sexual violence are therefore one of the priority areas in Norway’s cooperation with Liberia.  Here, sexual violence has been one of the most widely reported crimes during peacetime. The Ministry’s support for these efforts is primarily channelled through the UN and the Liberian authorities’ joint strategy on sexual and gender-based violence. Norway also takes part in police cooperation in Liberia, where the Norwegian police contingent shares its special expertise in dealing with abuse of women and children. The Ministry has supported the establishment of special reception centres for women and children at police stations in Liberia.