Summary In this thesis, I investigate the motives underlying the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the different consequences this may have for the individuals and communities that are exposed to conflict-related sexual violence. The thesis does so by focusing on sexual violence conducted in relation with the multiple nested conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), from 1996 to 2009, especially in the eastern provinces. Based on the historical development of the country, this thesis is a study of today’s Congolese society with a focus on the identification and description of the victims. Four main theories are examined in order to understand the causes of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the effect this has had and still has on the population in post-conflict and conflict zones. One hypothesis is that the long history of the Congolese state’s dysfunction (and possibly the heritage left by the particularly cruel Belgian colonization) has aggravated the effects of the sexual violence as a weapon of war. They are indeed serious and severe, on individuals as well as communities, in both conflict and post-conflict zones.
The empirical analysis is based on documents (reports and previous research), observations, and interviews made in July 2009, with 49 people from the eastern provinces of North-Kivu and Maniema. Though women are the main direct victims, one unexpected finding from my fieldwork was the extent to which also men have become victims of sexual violence, and how social stigma is, in fact, exacerbated for male victims. This was, for example, indicated by the discrepancy between the reported extent of sexual violence against men and the difficulty I had in identifying and interviewing male victims and the minuscule number of psychological and social programs assisting male rape victims. Amongst the indirect victims, the most affected are probably children born from rape. They are often stigmatised by their communities and even by their parents (especially husbands of the direct victims). From a legal point of view, the DRC does not give these children good protection or support. This has broad social, political and economic effects, especially in the functioning of local communities that have a large number of these children, but also at a national level. The later is another important finding of the empirical analysis. The fieldwork also revealed how the lack of medical assistance and de-traumatisation programs (for both male and female direct victim), which was observed both in the conflict and the post-conflict zone, generates even more severe long-term effects.
In sum, DRC’s status as a “dysfunctional state” has contributed to the spread of sexual violence that has ravaged the country for many years, especially in the eastern part of the country.