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BUKAVU, Congo: Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore.
Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.
“We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”
Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country.
“The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world,” said John Holmes, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs.”The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity – it’s appalling.”
The days of chaos in Congo were supposed to be over.
Last year, this country of 66 million people held a historic election that cost $500 million and was intended to end Congo’s wars and rebellions and its tradition of epically bad government. But the elections have not unified the country or significantly strengthened the government’s hand to deal with renegade forces, many from outside the country.
The justice system and the military still barely function, and UN officials say government troops are among the worst offenders when it comes to rape. Large swaths of the country, especially in the east, remain authority-free zones where civilians are at the mercy of heavily armed groups who have made warfare a livelihood and survive by raiding villages and abducting women for ransom.
According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny track suits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way.
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