Congo

Congo: MSF launches campaign to prevent rape

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BRAZZAVILLE, 3 March (IRIN) - International medical relief NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has launched a week-long campaign in the Republic of Congo (ROC) to prevent rape and to sensitise the population of its consequences. The campaign is to coincide with International Women's Day on 8 March.
The initiative began on Thursday with a news conference in the capital, Brazzaville. It will be followed by a colloquium on sexual violence - caring for victims, and policy to prevent it - to be held on Tuesday in the city on Tuesday. On Saturday, 500 life-size wood silhouettes of women will be installed in Brazzaville, symbolising the untold number of women who have been subjected to sexual violence.

There will also be a theatrical presentation, to be performed on the back of a truck that will visit numerous locations throughout the capital. Posters, banners, and information will also be distributed.

Rape was prevalent during the years of civil war in the 1990s. MSF reported that between 3 May and 31 December 1999, about 1,200 women who had been raped arrived at the emergency centre of Brazzaville's Makelekele Hospital. Yet, despite a general return to peace - the strife-ridden Pool Region excluded - the crime of rape has remained persistent: between March 2000 and December 2002, 548 victims of sexual violence (99.3 percent female) aged as young as six months and up to 69 years old were treated at Makelekele.

Although a Congolese law of 2002 is very clear about punishment for the crime of rape, no court judgment for a rape case has been rendered to date, MSF reported. It is calling for not only an end to impunity for those responsible but also for a de-stigmatisation of their victims, who are often shunned by their families and communities as a result.

While the prevention of rape remains MSF's primary objective, the care it provides for victims remains critical, and follows a three-tiered approach.

First, free medical care is provided, including preventative treatment to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and the provision of the "day-after" pill to prevent pregnancies. Given the urgency this entails, MSF emphasised that it was critical that patients received treatment within 72 hours of being attacked.

Second, trauma counselling is provided, including both psychological and psychiatric care.

Third, social support is available, including professional skills training and follow-up visits by social workers - an assistance of particular importance for women left pregnant by rape and unable to terminate the pregnancy under Congolese law.

In addition to its three-year-old rape treatment programme at Makelekele Hospital, MSF has recently opened an identical project at Talangai Hospital, also in Brazzaville.

For more information on the initiative and background on MSF's work in ROC, available in French, go to: http://www.msf.fr/msf/Content/News.nsf/html/congo030303?OpenDocument

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