rape in the FARDC: a catch-22
I have a Congolese friend who has spent the better part of the last two years speaking with Congolese soldiers and rebels in an attempt to get them to stop raping women and girls in the Kivu provinces. It's an impossible job, but my friend handles it with humility and the knowledge that right is on his side. He is a man of extraordinary courage.
My friend's efforts are focused largely on individual change, on convincing soldiers that the women and children they rape are just like their own mothers and sisters and daughters. He sometimes gets permission from the military authorities to do his work and has certainly pressured them to act on the situation, but mostly he just talks to groups of armed men, one by one by one.
I don't know if his efforts have anything to do with the announcement from Congolese military spokesman Col. Leon Richard Kasonga that the Congolese military will no longer tolerate the thousands of rapists within its ranks. The problem, of course, is that Kasonga and the army administration he represents don't have effective control over all the soldiers under their command. When the military hierarchy issues an order, sometimes it is followed by the rank and file and sometimes it is not. The FARDC has virtually no capacity to do much of anything in an organized fashion. Is the FARDC's military courts be capable of providing fair trials to any of its members accused of rape? I sincerely doubt it. Is the civilian justice system? Absolutely not. It's much more likely that those accused of rape will either face a form of mob justice or that they'll be sent home, set free, or kept in the ranks to continue destroying women's lives.
So it's very unclear whether Kasonga's promise to take legal action against guilty members of the FARDC will result in actual punishment for their crimes. It's also unclear what would happen to the FARDC. If they remove all the rapists from their ranks - as they absolutely should - there won't be enough soldiers to establish order throughout the region. Enforcement of the policy will also throw a wrench into the DDR system. You can't integrate former rebels (most of whom are also guilty of rape and numerous other war crimes) into the ranks if unrepentant rapists aren't welcome. It seems that by taking a necessary and important - if unenforcable - step, the Congolese military is backing itself into a horrible Catch-22 situation.
But even if this week's announcement is only symbolic, it is a tiny victory in the fight to protect the women and girls of the eastern Congo. At least the FARDC is finally acknowledging what has been clear for a very long time: that their soldiers are just as guilty as the rest in this war against women. The announcement will encourage one of the bravest people I know. And maybe, just maybe, it will give some small solace to the hundreds of thousands of women and girls he tries so desparately to help.