dna testing comes to congo
I hope everyone had a restful and enjoyable holiday season. A lot happened over the break, from the eruption of North Kivu's other active volcano to growing complications for the situation in LRA-occupied areas of northeast Congo and the launch of another military operation against the FDLR (Saints help us if it's as destructive as Kimia II was.).
I'll have lots of links up tomorrow, but for today, I wanted to report on one bit of good news coming out of Goma. On December 28, Heal Africa program manager Lyn Lusi posted this tweet:
1st DNA test went out today: 14yr old girl from Sake heard us on radio, saved the evidence. 2 suspects also sampled and all sent off to USA.At last, DNA testing for rape cases has come to the eastern Congo! Used in conjunction with other efforts to build police capacity and get the judicial system to function normally (and in the interest of justice), this is a huge step in working to end impunity for the Congo's rapists.
There are no crime labs with the capacity to operate DNA testing facilities in the eastern Congo, so for now, samples are sent to Washington for analysis. The system is new and limited, but as word gets around (through simple mechanisms like radio announcements), more and more women and girls will be able to prove the identities of their attackers.
You wouldn't know it from most accounts, but a large number of rapes in the Congo are committed not by soldiers running mines but by normal citizens who take advantage of the country's lawlessness to prey on women and girls. (One human rights group reports that more than 3,100 women have been raped in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, and at least 2,700 of those occurred in Kinshasa alone.) These rapes tend to be less violent than those committed by soldiers, but they are no less devastating for the victims, who are often rejected by their families or who become pregnant as a result of the attacks.
I see the DNA testing as being most useful for this latter group of victims, at least in the short run. Although it could conceivably be used against soldiers, it's hard to see how the remnant of Congo's criminal justice system could force many soldiers to appear in court, much less jail them, without the consent of the FARDC's leadership. Above all else, the FARDC needs to be professionalized and put under solid civilian control and chains-of-command.
Still, the advent of DNA testing for rape victims is great news for the women and girls of the DRC. Here's looking forward to the day when every individual who terrorizes them will be held accountable, and to a time when peace will at last prevail in the Congo.
(By the way, I have yet to find a single journalistic account (in French or English) about the DNA testing. If you find any (or decide to write one!), please let me know.)