"Everyone rapes. It's civilians, even police, even pastors."
The Value of the Women in Congo is the winner of the 2013 Irish Council of Civil Liberties Film Awards. Irish documentary filmmaker Dearbhla Glynn, working in consultation with the Congo Men's Network, has offered a film that is certainly worth considering, but which also requires a critical if not jaundiced eye when viewing.
"A woman is raped every 48 seconds in Congo."
The startling text appears at 31 seconds, following images of a peaceful bucolic countryside, and an extreme close up of the red eyes of a heavily armed soldier staring directly and suspiciously into the camera lens. Is he the protector or the perpetrator? This is the unanswered question. Still, this film is extremely valuable for the testimony it offers from the brutalized women and the men who raped them.
But a caveat should remain in place. Did those who offered access to rebel leaders subtly influence the filmmaker and unwittingly offer propaganda on behalf of the government of Congo?
End of reel credits go to the Congo Men's Network (COMEN), which is the MenEngage in-country network activities coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This group is part of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women Project.
The trust fund is a grant mechanism for NGO's, and NGO's do not operate with complete independence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The standard narrative in this film is one of "good" versus "bad" rebels, with absolutely no mention of the rapes committed by the United Nations in DRC. U.S.-trained Congolese troops rape, as do the Congolese army, but well documented United Nations' atrocities in 2004, 2005, and 2012 are omitted from this documentary.
The good vs. bad rebel approach leaves plenty of room for the finger of blame to point everywhere. General La Fontaine, leader of the Mai Mai rebels, is featured casually dressed in a zip-up wool sweater, arms outstretched in a seemingly frustrated and conciliatory gesture to the camera. "Sexual violence is like all forms of violence," he says. "It is found in every rebel group." But is it?
The Mai Mai rebels are currently involved in a military alliance with the regular Congolese army against the M23 rebel group. The Congolese army has deemed the Mai Mai "good rebels" for the time being. This, in spite of the fact that the Mai Mai have been involved in systematic gender violence.
NBC News, citing the Associated Press, reported last week from Goma that the Congo army and the Mai Mai have attacked M23 positions, ending a six-week lull in fighting. Kabasha Amani, a spokesman for the M23, said government troops (FARDC) with the help of Mai Mai attacked rebel positions early Saturday. Fighting took place in the village of Munigi, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) north of the provincial capital Goma. In early June, peace negotiations resumed between the Congo government and the M23.
What has not been widely reported is that the Tanzanian army is also involved, providing 10 crates of anti-personnel mines. Is this the precursor to regional war, led by the "good" Mai Mai?
While The Value of Women in Congo offers the Mai Mai a conciliatory profile, it does not offer a similar platform for the M23.
The filmmaker interviews a young Congolese man who claims he deserted from the M23. He says that young men "as children" were brainwashed with dreams of power if they joined the rebellion. The problem with this statement is that the M23 formed just over one year ago in April 2012. This young man was not a "child" last year. He looks to be in his late teens.
Or perhaps it is the witch doctors and shamans who are to blame.
A FARDC commander explains that witch doctors predict that if a soldier rapes a 9-year-old virgin and puts blood from the ruptured hymen on his body, bullets will not penetrate.
This film could have offered a greater service if it would have demonstrated that Congo is a land with no governance and that the fabric of decent society has been completely rendered in the blood of innocents.
COMEN assisted in the production of this film. A statement made on their website would have been a worthy inclusion.
These indicators show how the Democratic Republic of Congo is far from achieving a stable security and humanitarian point of view. To achieve this, the government should provide considerable efforts, especially in regard to the respect for different national, regional and international agreements in this case the framework agreement signed in Addis Ababa on 24 February 2013, the various resolutions agreement with the leaders of armed groups in the east of the country signed in Goma on 23 March 2009.
The reference to March 23, 2009, is the Goma Peace Accord, which has never been implemented and from which the M23 takes its name.
The true value of this film is in the heartbreaking testimony of the women. Their tears wash over the film at 24 frames per second, while blood pours from ruptured vaginas and hymens at twice that rate -- bodies violently penetrated every 48 seconds.
For more background see this document.