Congo gets first rehab centre for rape victims

Fri Feb 4, 2011 4:21pm EST
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By Jonny Hogg

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo's first rehabilitation center for victims of sexual violence opened its doors on Friday, weeks after a new spate of mass rapes in its troubled east.

Mass rape has been a characteristic of the conflict in eastern Congo -- a brutal battle over ethnicity and resources -- which was in part triggered when millions of people fled across the border following the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Although accurate figures are hard to come by, the United Nations estimates at least 160 women are being raped every week in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu.

The UN-funded "City of Joy" was launched in the eastern town of Bukavu by Eve Ensler, author of the hit play "The Vagina Monologues" about female sexuality. President Joseph Kabila's wife Olive Lembe Kabila is also a backer of the center.

"The opening of the City of Joy is the moment where women of the Congo turn their pain to power. Where they who have suffered so deeply, so invisibly will claim their rights, their bodies and their future," Ensler said at the opening ceremony.

The center will give therapy and training to around 180 women a year to help them rebuild their lives.

Last month over 100 women, men and children were sexually abused in separate attacks carried out by the Congolese army and FDLR rebels in and around the South Kivu town of Fizi.

Dr Nene Rukunghu, who treats victims of sexual violence at the local Panzi Hospital, believed rape was becoming ingrained as part of the culture in the remote east.   Continued...