In August 2010, a high-level panel was convened by the United Nations HighCommissioner for Human Rights to hear directly from victims of sexual violence in theDemocratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) regarding their needs and their perceptions of remedies and reparations available to them. The High Commissioner tasked the panel toassess the functioning of existing judicial mechanisms for remedies and reparations forvictims of sexual violence, and to make recommendations on the strengthening of thesemechanisms as well as the need for additional mechanisms, particularly to provide access toremedies for victims whose perpetrators are not known. The panel was chaired by Kyung-wha Kang, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, with Elisabeth Rehn, formerMinister of Defense of Finland and co-author of the UNIFEM report on Women, War andPeace, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, Medical Director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu (South Kivu)serving as members. The panel worked in consultation with the Government of the DRC.2.
From 27 September to 13 October 2010, the panel conducted its in-country work,travelling to Kinshasa, Bukavu, Shabunda, Bunia, Komanda, Mbandaka and Songo Mboyo,and meeting with a total of 61 victims, some individually and some in groups, ranging in agefrom three to sixty-one years old. Groups included victims who had contracted HIV/AIDS asa result of rape, victims who had become pregnant and had children as a result of rape,victims whose husbands had rejected them following their rape, child victims of rape, victimsof rape who had taken their cases to court seeking justice, and victims of rape by civilianperpetrators. In each locality, the panel also met with provincial and local governmentofficials, and convened roundtables with officials in the justice sector, members of civilsociety and UN representatives.3.
The Panel was informed about efforts undertaken by the Government to address sexualviolence, including the adoption of a National Strategy to Combat Gender-Based Violenceand the passing of two laws against sexual violence in 2006. The panel found that the needsof the victims of sexual violence it interviewed are largely unmet, particularly in remoteareas. The lives they knew have been largely destroyed, and they are suffering greatly -physically, psychologically, and materially. This victimization continues and is compoundedby the stigma they often face in families and communities. Their husbands abandon them,and they are socially ostracized. Often this rejection is further compounded for victims whosuffer from fistula, victims who become pregnant and bear children as a result of rape, andvictims who contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Shifting the stigmafrom the victims to the perpetrators would have a great impact on the ability of victims toreclaim their dignity and rebuild their lives.4.
For those victims the panel interviewed from North and South Kivu, where armedconflict continues to plague the civilian population, the restoration of peace and security wasthe highest priority - their “first prayer,” their “big dream,” and their “greatest hope.” Peaceand security are seen as the precondition to any restoration of normal life, and victimsexpressed concern that whatever they are given now to restore their lives can be againdestroyed if there is no peace. Among the recommendations of the panel is a call forintensification of efforts to restore peace and security in eastern DRC, with support fromcountries in the region and from the international community and with equal participation of women, in implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325.