Time to Act: Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo: What Should Canada Do?

A Congolese woman at the Bompata Encampment, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Photo credit: Marie Frechon/United Nations.

A Congolese woman at the Bompata Encampment, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Photo credit: Marie Frechon/United Nations.

Last month, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development released a report by its Subcommittee on Human Rights: A Weapon of War: Rape and Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo – Canada’s Role in Taking Action and Ending Impunity.

The report reviews testimony heard by the Subcommittee over the last few years on conflict-related sexual violence – in general and in the DRC. It includes 12 recommendations, many of which address issues of interest to WPSN-C members. The report also requests that the Government table a “comprehensive response” to the report. This is something to watch for!

The report examines causes and consequences of sexual violence as a weapon of war, following natural disasters and in other crisis situations. The Subcommittee heard that there are various underlying factors that contribute to “shaping an environment in which sexual violence can occur, including entrenched discriminatory practices and attitudes, weak rule of law, poverty and lack of economic opportunity, and a climate of impunity for perpetrators.”

The report notes that a number of key factors contribute specifically to the prevalence of sexual violence in the DRC:

  • Widespread discrimination against women in Congolese law and society;

  • Weak rule of law and a critically under-resourced justice sector that lacks capacity, independence and impartiality, leading to pervasive impunity;

  • An ineffective, ill-disciplined security sector that is not subject to effective civilian control; and,

  • Competition among armed groups and individuals for control of natural resource revenues in a region affected by widespread poverty and lack of economic opportunity.

The Subcommittee made 12 recommendations to the Government of Canada. Some relate to Canada’s relationship with DRC and others to the issue of conflict-related sexual violence more generally.

Many of the recommendations are of interest to members of the WPSN-C and touch on actions that the Canadian Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict has been urging. For example, the report recommends that Canada “continue” to “make the promotion and protection of women’s human rights a foreign policy priority, and that it work to strengthen women’s participation in securing, maintaining and consolidating international peace and security.”

Also included in the recommendations is a review of Canadian assistance to the DRC with “a view to considering the possibility of funding smaller, grass-roots programs” – one of the issues raised by the WPSN-C in its testimony to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights earlier this year.

The report also recommends that the Government of Canada continue to take steps to “protect and support those who work with survivors of sexual violence in particular, and human rights defenders more generally, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in other situations of conflict and crisis.”

The final recommendation is that the Government of Canada “continue working to ensure that that Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security is implemented in all relevant policies and programming; that, in order to provide timely and robust public reports, the Government of Canada continue to make efforts to address challenges associated with collecting data and reporting across government departments, which undertake their activities under diverse mandates, policies and processes; and that the Government of Canada consult with civil society organizations during evaluations and reviews of the National Action Plan.”

The report provides a clear overview of the issues and concrete recommendations for action. Will the Government provide an equally strong response?


This post was written by Beth Woroniuk. She is an independent consultant on gender equality and women’s rights and is based in Ottawa. Follow her on Twitter @BethOttawa.


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