Press conference by Emergency Relief Coordinator on sexual violence
Joining Mr. Egeland at a press conference at United Nations Headquarters on World AIDS Day was Dr. Denis Mukwege, Director of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has treated 7,500 victims of sexual violence, aged 6 to over 60, and carried out 4,100 operations, including 1,225 operations to correct rape-induced obstetric fistula.
Mr. Egeland drew a link between sexual violence, particularly in conflict zones, and the spread of HIV/AIDS, pointing out that 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were living with AIDS. "By the end of 2010, we estimate that there will be more than 15 million children orphaned by HIV in Africa," he added. Recalling his visit earlier this year to the Panzi Hospital, he noted that "dozens" of its patients were less than 12 years old - victims of sexual violence at the hands of more than 20 armed groups in the South Kivu district.
Many of the patients he had met had been victims of a veritable "tsunami" of acts of gang rape resulting in fistula - the outcome of the forced insertion of foreign objects into a victim's vagina, resulting in the tearing of the delicate tissue separating the birth canal from the bowel or bladder, rending her physically incontinent and psychologically scarred.
"Rape is not a consequence of war, it is the result of war; it is a weapon that is used to wage war," said Dr. Mukwege, adding that it was not enough to go to the aid of victims and their families: "Communities need to be educated, too... Rather than stigmatize the victim, one must stigmatize the rapist."
Speaking a day after Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched the Humanitarian Appeal 2007, Mr. Egeland said that conflict-related sexual violence in general, and fistula in particular, had grown into a global problem, though "it is probably worse in numbers now in eastern Congo than anywhere else in the world". It was to be seen today in Darfur, western Sudan, as it had been seen in other conflict zones, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina where a European Community study found that 20,000 Muslim women had been raped during the country's 1992-1995 war.
Mr. Egeland denounced the "deniability" of such violence, saying it was by no means limited to any particular culture. Indeed, it was happening "among Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists all over the world". In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was like a "cancer" that had "infected the minds of young men with guns".
Dr. Mukwege agreed, saying: "It is a new technique of war that we are seeing. It is a sickness of our century... a tactic that aims to destroy through the spread of HIV and mutilation." It not only ruined lives of victims, but also their families - and, in turn, whole communities.
Mr. Egeland recalled a meeting with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at which Mr. Kabila vowed that, if elected, he would go to the Panzi Hospital to launch a national campaign to curb sexual violence, and that any Government official or soldier who had been involved in such crimes would be fired. Since Mr. Kabila won the election, "I've written to him, reminding him of his promise - and I will hold him to his promise." The Under-Secretary also appealed for additional funding contributions for the Panzi Hospital, saying that, while it had the money to carry out operations, more was needed to help rape victims rejoin their families and reintegrate into their communities.
For information media - not an official record