Sister Sophie Kitoga who runs the Congolese organization Femme, Lève-toi et Marche (translates loosely to Women, Let’s Get Up and March) based in Bukavu recently spoke to the CICC Secretariat over email about her reaction to the Lubanaga proceedings. What follows is the full text from that conversation. Please note that translation from the original French is informal and provided by the CICC Secretariat.
The Thomas Lubanga trial is very important for people in our country in that we can start to see that what is written in our constitution with regard to the fight against impunity is finding responses. The trial is equally important for our organization, Femme, Lève-toi et Marche [member of the Congolese National Coalition for the ICC] which is comprised of female victims of rape. Our goal is to assist rape survivors in recovering from the psychological trauma and lethargy that this type of scourge inflicts on them.
Many women have been physically mutilated (often genital mutilation resulting in fistula) whereas others have had their breasts cut, wounds on their thighs, buttocks, back and stomach. Others still have been traumatized psychologically given the fact that they have been raped repeatedly in the presence of their husbands or their children.
What remains is this feeling of shame and humiliation. Some are blamed by their husbands or children who pretend that these poor victims consented to rape. The consequence is that these women are discouraged to the point of wanting to commit suicide. The disgust they confront from others forces them to want to withdraw from society and forever stop taking part in any kind of social or economic order.
What’s more, the children born as a result of rape become innocent victims and are not accepted by members of the family into which they are born but also the society as a whole. We have a name for these children: Hutu children. For some mothers, it’s hard to accept these children. These children bear the signs of the very things Lubanga is accused of. If by some misfortune, Lubanga is acquitted, where will be the justice? The impunity our country suffers from will continue and the victims will become more and more numerous.
Personally, I don’t know Lubanga and that probably goes for many Congolese. But we have heard about the acts he is alleged to have committed as well as his soldiers. All of us here in the Congo wait for justice to be done-many people have been killed, families have been forced to leave their property, their fields, and their businesses. Poverty and misery are being fought in every region. Should Lubanga be found guilty, such a verdict could bring comfort-and perhaps indemnities so that people could return to their activities. Women too could regain hope for the future.
As for the violence, I don’t know if the failure to convict Lubanga would help victims recover their belongings, but it would restore some confidence in power and the love of country these people feel for the Congo-victims would feel vindicated and from this would flow a feeling of patriotism.
As for women, in addition to the sense of security and a return to justice, the women would feel revalorized and rehabilitated.
Let’s talk about our country’s supreme court: the Lubanga trial stands to breathe courage into our national court system in terms of its ability to openly pursue the issue of rape and fight for justice. The trial stands to vanquish fear and false shame which together propel rape. We are scared because we are threatened-you see, it’s this false sense of shame that forces people to remain quiet and not denounce these rapes. This trial will encourage the country’s system of justice to formulate laws against all manner of violence against all types of people-but especially those most vulnerable: the weak, women and children.
I don’t know if many victims will have the possibility to testify as eyewitnesses; many would no doubt fear retaliation. It must be that victims come together to fight-for this to happen, the Congolese state must start up investigations to find the perpetrators. The Church, too, has a role to play in condemning this scourge because rape goes against religious respect for physical integrity.
The enlistment of child soldiers is a grave crime because it deprives children of their childhood and their right to grow up under the affection of their parents. It also deprives them of a normal education. It hurts children psychologically and morally: child soldiers no longer respect the law that holds a society together: you shall not kill, you shall not steal, and you shall respect adults, small children, older people, women and girls. Contrary to these societal laws, child soldiers have moral wounds that force them to learn to act immorally: rape, lie, murder and speak obscenities. All this goes against our common human culture and the African culture. For victims, a guilty verdict for Lubanga would be a milestone in the fight against impunity. In this sense, the symbolic dimension of the trial will serve as a lesson. Whoever would or would be tempted to act as this man has will think twice. And those who give such a person arms will also be denounced because they too carry a heavy responsibility for the wars in Africa.