DW spoke with British filmmaker Fiona Lloyd Davis about sexual violence in Democratic Republic of Congo under the aegis of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is happening in London June 10 to 13.
How real is the danger of being raped for women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
The risk of rape is very high. The country is very difficult to access, many areas are very remote from any state infrastructure. I do think that women and girls expect to be raped, there is a sort of tired acceptance. More so in rural areas, where you need to walk far to get water, tend to your crops, or go to the forest and dig for cassava. The perpetrators could be militiamen from different groups, but it could also be soldiers from the Congolese army. It has become part of society, which is terrifying for women and girls.
There is a huge stigma attached to it. Husbands and families often reject them. If they become pregnant, young women have told me that their family makes them choose between coming back to them and keeping the baby. Mostly the women seem to choose to stay with the baby, even though they often have difficult relationships with them, especially if they are boys.
How can a conference like this, which is far away from where the crimes happen, help?
One of the key points of this summit is how to address the end of impunity and how to send a message that this behavior is no longer tolerated. Up until now, there have been very few trials, and the trials that we have seen have not been very effective. The judicial system in the DRC is very fragile, it has been neglected for a long time. It needs to be renovated and restored in order for women to feel safe. It can be done on a very low level - ending impunity is one thing that could help.
Bosko Ntaganda is a good example: He was an indicted war criminal, he has been sought by the International Criminal Court since 2006, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, yet in 2011 he was in charge of 50,000 Congolese army troops. He was working for the government, he was living and working openly and I talked to him at his home for an hour in 2011.
How exactly can progress be achieved - how can the perpetrators be held to justice?
There are enormous challenges. But there needs to be international pressure, so that the Congolese government is continually held accountable.
On the other hand, there are extraordinary networks in civil society. Due to the failings of the state, Congolese citizens have been recording cases for many years. There are a lot of small organizations that continue to record rape cases. If there was a comprehensive, universal questionnaire, the information they are already gathering could be used as evidence. It would need to be made coherent, so that it could hold up in court.
To give you one example: I've recently made a film about a rape trial in a town called Minova. One of the prosecuting lawyers is a woman in her 30s, Nadine, she is passionate about getting justice for rape survivors. She is risking her life, she's been threatened. She is also helping the victims, because she feels that once the trial is over it doesn´t stop there, there is the issue of reparation, and how to support survivors. There are so many dedicated Congolese people; they need to be supported more. The international community needs to listen, to find out what people in Congo are already doing, rather than imposing their own agenda.
What help is available at present once the crime has happened?
That entirely depends on where it has happened: Some villages are very remote from healthcare centers. Often women are taken deep into the forest, and in order to escape they might have to walk for a few weeks, through the forest, while they might not know where they are, and they are weak and injured. In these cases it is very difficult to access help in time.
But there are also some good initiatives, where community leaders are trained. The message is: If your wife, your sister or daughter is raped, it is not her fault. She needs to go to a health center within 72 hours to prevent HIV, a pregnancy, or sexually transmitted diseases, as well as further treatment, as she might have been very badly injured.
How would you describe your role as a filmmaker?
I want to give people a voice, a chance to be seen as three-dimensional people, not only as victims. I hope that my film shows that there are some extraordinary women, who have gone through so much, and yet still they are rising above their experiences. I want to show that they are already doing so much to rebuild their lives, they just need more help.
Fiona Lloyd Davis is a British filmmaker and has produced and directed films about rape in conflict areas, mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The film "Seeds of Hope" will premiere at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 10. Production was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.