ACTION ALERT: Stop Rape as a Weapon of War

June 8th, 2009 - by admin

Raymond C. Offenheiser / Oxfam America & Marcel Stoessel / Oxfam International – 2009-06-08 00:26:13

ACTION ALERT: Stop Rape as a Weapon of War
Raymond C. Offenheiser / OXFAM

“They took me into the forest, where we spent three months. Every day, I was raped.”

Sifa is a 23-year old woman living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mass rape is routinely being used as weapon of war to destroy women, families, and communities. The brutality she faced was one of more than 15,000 reported sexual violations against women and girls, even babies as young as 10 months and women as old as 80.

Watch this powerful video and learn how YOU can help thousands like Sifa:

In January 2008, the Congolese people felt hopeful. A peace agreement was in the works, and stability seemed near. But a year and a half later, the violence rages on. And it’s created human suffering on a massive scale: more than 5.4 million people have died, many from starvation and disease, and more than 1.5 million have been forced from their homes.

Today, Oxfam America is working with local groups to protect and advocate for women like Sifa who have suffered sexual violence. And we are one of the leading agencies providing emergency assistance — including water, sanitation, and public health outreach — to more than 500,000 people forced to leave their homes because of the fighting.

But with the situation on the ground at its worst point in two years, Oxfam must immediately extend its efforts in the region to reach an additional 150,000 displaced persons. Oxfam’s work around the world depends on the continued support of people like you.

Donate now and help raise funds to scale-up efforts on behalf of women, girls, and communities in crisis in the DRC and other places that we work.

Raymond C. Offenheiser is the President of Oxfam America

P.S. It’s the start of the growing season in the eastern DRC. Food is scarce, and water is hard to come by. Unfortunately, the issues Congolese farmers face are echoed globally; to read more about Oxfam’s innovative work with poor farming communities, check your mail for a letter on what we’re doing. And please make a contribution today.

ACTION PETITION: Stop Rape as a Weapon of War
With the deadliest conflict since World War II still raging in Congo, rape as a weapon of war is being used on a scale not seen anywhere else in the world.

The US government is in a position to put a stop to the violence, but we need you to add your voice to those calling attention to it.

• Action: Will you sign the petition calling on President-Elect Obama to announce his plan to end sexual violence in Congo?

If only the World Would Not Look Away’
Marcel Stoessel / Oxfam International

Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in the Democratic Republic of Congo, recently traveled through the war-torn eastern region of the country where the needs of the people are enormous.

(5 May 2009) — It was in late March that I started receiving increasingly worrying reports about alleged atrocities in remote areas of North Kivu province. Military operations by the Congolese army against a rebel group known as FDLR—Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda—had continued (Rwandan troops deployed in a joint operation with the Congolese army withdrew in February); and reports suggested that the offensive was likely to expand to South Kivu.

I heard about reprisal attacks, the burning of houses, sexual violence, looting, and people being prevented from accessing their fields—their only source of food. Many of these reports were coming from areas where Oxfam teams had begun carrying out life-saving work with a local partner, helping to provide safe drinking water, clean latrines, and public health education.

I could not believe what I was reading: Up to 250,000 people reported to have left their homes since January.

Some of our senior staff, as skeptical as me, went to the field and came back with a clear report: It is true, they told me; it’s just not on TV yet. Our immediate response was to scale up our emergency operations in South Lubero, which is in North Kivu. Water trucks were sent to provide clean water to displaced placed and the families who hosted them. Hygiene items were distributed, and health promoters were deployed to help prevent the outbreak of epidemics.

We also decided to open an emergency response office in the neighboring province of South Kivu where we were getting reports of another military build-up, indicating that a similar tragedy could happen there.

A few days later, I was on a plane crossing this vast country towards the conflict zone to support our field staff and to get a first-hand view of what was happening. After two flights and a trip by road I finally arrived in Lubero. The government representative there told me people needed urgent help.

I continued by road southwards into what the United Nations called the “red zone”—an area where military escorts are recommended. Oxfam refuses such escorts, due to concerns that we may be perceived as supporting a particular side in any conflict. It was one day after an attack on the town of Luofu, where 255 houses were burned to the ground.

We met some displaced people on the road, who were fleeing the fighting, carrying the few possessions they could take with them. They were exhausted and desperate. They were heading to a town called Kirumba, which was also our destination. Several thousand people had gathered there for an Oxfam emergency distribution of essential hygiene items.

Through an interpreter, I heard some of their stories. One woman witnessed another being gang-raped by three armed men. The victim died later, the witness told me. The witness—an old woman—ran away from her village with her children, but had become separated from her husband, who fled in another direction. She told me the few items she had managed to carry with her were taken away by soldiers.

As the Oxfam distribution of hygiene items continued, we travelled further south to a town called Kanyabayonga, where Oxfam was distributing water. The town’s population has more than doubled during the recent fighting, and Oxfam is trucking in 180,000 liters of clean water every day.

Village chiefs gathered to tell me their stories. Since the start of the military operations, civilians are seen with suspicion by both warring sides, and accused of being collaborators. People have had no choice but to leave their villages—but they also have had nowhere safe to go.

They arrived in Kanyabayonga, they said, terrified, tired, and in need of protection and help. The fighting had not stopped. One day before we arrived, the FDLR rebels had attacked Kanyabayonga itself.

People were living with host families—in some cases, up to five other families in a house. I tried to imagine how it would be—no clean water, only basic squat latrines, with little money and a war going on around me.

But what really broke my heart was to hear about the systematic burning of houses in these remote areas of North Kivu province. Villagers reported that many thousands of homes had been burned to the ground.

There are about 17,500 UN peacekeepers stationed in Congo—but with little visible presence here to give these vulnerable people any sense of safety. People I spoke to wanted to see UN peacekeepers patrol on foot, to be present in their communities. To protect them.

Now I’m back in the eastern provincial capital, Goma, where Oxfam coordinates its emergency operations in Congo. I am happy that we have managed to scale up our emergency work in South Lubero. More help will come, if the security situation permits. If only the world would not look away.