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The Rape of the Congo

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--Zach Schubert

The UN calls the Democratic Republic of the Congo the new rape capital of the world. By their estimate, 35,000 women have been raped there since January. As ethnic militias continue to fight a decade long civil war, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of terror has risen to an almost unprecedented level.

In the late 19th century, the Congo Free State was founded as a colony of Belgium. Since it abruptly gained independence in 1960 it was immediately bogged by corruption. When Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in 1965, briefly renaming the country Zaire, he presided over a notoriously corrupt and inhumane government. He was overthrown during the Rwandan civil war, after the Rwandan government supported a Zairian rebel group in the hopes of clearing Tutsi camps that had crossed the border. When the newly installed president, Laurent D. Kabila, again split with his Rwandan supporters a year later, a second civil war sparked what would become "Africa's first world war." A decade later, Congolese troops continue to clash with Interahamwe, the Rwandan rebels who first started the genocide.

Although ethnic violence is pervasive, it also masks a deeper struggle over the Congo's uniquely valuable resources. The Congo, as large as Western Europe, contains 80 percent of the world's coltan. Coltan, a metal that conducts heat exceptionally brilliantly, is an essential component in cell phones and laptops. It can be mined by anyone will a shovel, leading to shallow pockmarks all across the country. It is largely for this reason, under the pretense of hunting Tutsi fighters, that the Interahamwe persist.

The practice of rape as a weapon of war spread to the Congo through the Interahamwe, though now soldiers on both sides use it. The weapon's power is its ability to demoralize an enemy. Says Zainab Salbi of Women for Women International, "When a husband is forced to see the rape of his wife or his daughter in front of him, this is a complete emasculation of the husband, and telling the whole society that we are destroying the most respected members of your society."

In recent months, this tactic of humiliation has found a new outlet: men raping other men. Homosexuality is taboo in Congolese culture, and the trauma victims suffer can be crippling. Many seek help only if their health is threatened. Others, unwilling to suffer the shame, die untreated.

Adding to the danger is the increasing spread of sexually transmitted disease and HIV. In a country where HIV is already rampant and medical resources are scarce, rape wards have shown a surge of HIV positive patients.

Joining us via Skype this week is Keith Harmon Snow, an independent journalist, war correspondent and photographer. Keith has worked as a genocide investigator and serves on the advisory board of the Friends of the Congo. He will further discuss the history of the conflict, as well as the role of the Congolese and Rwandan governments.

Also Skyping in will be RUTV political analyst Omoyele Sowore. He will deliver his own analysis on the culture of rape based on his experiences as a journalist in Africa.

We're live at 6pm (EDT) Wednesday and on demand at www.livestream.com/reportersuncensored.