A month into my first trip to eastern Congo, site of the deadliest conflict since World War II, I had heard plenty of horror stories — from forced cannibalism to the burning alive of the inhabitants of entire villages. I was no longer easily shocked. But one exchange with an aid worker stopped me cold.
I arrived in Baraka, a town on Lake Tanganyika that was overrun with Congolese soldiers and international aid workers, in February 2007. I asked a disheveled European woman working with the United Nations about security. She enthusiastically described her pet video project, to convince refugees in neighboring Tanzania that it was safe to return home.
“Foreign militias are gone,” she said. “Just rapes and looting for the moment. No attacks.”
Stunned, I asked, “You don’t consider rape a security threat?”
“Rape here is so common,” she said. “It’s cultural.”
That was the first of many times I would hear mass rape in Congo dismissed as “cultural.”
The sexual violence in Congo is among the worst on the planet. The U.N. estimates that hundreds of thousands of women have been gang-raped, tortured and held as sexual slaves since the conflict began in 1998.
That’s when armed groups began behaving like mafias, battling for control of the minerals in eastern Congo. To control territory, militias use rape as their weapon of choice.
In May, the U.S. Senate included a provision in its financial regulation bill requiring publicly traded companies to ensure that “conflict minerals” are not purchased from militia-controlled mines in Congo. Such efforts are welcome, if grossly overdue.
Still, we in the West too often find it easier to perceive rape as an accepted part of an unfamiliar culture rather than as a tool of war that we could help banish. Too often, the enemy becomes all Congolese men rather than men with guns terrorizing the Congolese people. By casting the chaos and violence as “men vs. women” or dismissing the crisis as “cultural,” we do a profound injustice to Congolese men. Rather than help, we send an implicit insult: It’s a pity, but, well…it’s just who you people are.
This perception is widespread. I work full-time for Congolese women, and I find myself devoting an inordinate amount of energy to defending Congolese men, whether arguing with a gazillionaire at a backyard barbeque over “Africa’s tribal rape rituals” or sitting on a panel with a human rights activist who waxes on about “the cultural roots of the sexual violence in Congo.”
Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, recently described such thinking as the “lingering assumption that sexual violence is a tradition, rather than a tactic of choice.”
Any Congolese will tell you rape is not “traditional.” It did occur in Congo before the war, as it does everywhere. But the proliferation of sexual violence came with the war. Militias and Congolese soldiers alike now use sexual violence as a weapon. Left unchecked, sexual violence has festered in Congo’s war-ravaged east. This does not make rape cultural. It makes it easy to commit. There is a difference.
Analysts often use the phrase “culture of impunity” to describe Congo. John Prendergast, who has worked in African conflict zones for 25 years, explains: “The rule of law breaks down and perpetrators commit crimes without fear of conviction or punishment. Over time, this leads to further breakdown of societal codes and the very social fabric of a community.”
The media, aid workers and activists alike have consistently failed to tell the stories of Congolese men who were killed by fighters because they refused to commit rape. In interviews with hundreds of women, I heard countless stories of men who chose to take a bullet in the head, literally, rather than violate their child, sister or mother. In Baraka, one survivor recalled: “They tried to make my older brother rape me. He refused and was killed. So they raped me.”
Describing the violence in Congo as “cultural” is more than offensive. It is dangerous.
The European aid worker who dismissed the violence as “cultural” implied that Congolese women should expect to be raped. In so doing, she dismissed her responsibility to so much as warn returning refuges about the extreme security threat.
Later that day in 2007, I met 20 Congolese women who had returned from refugee camps in the last six months. In that time, half had been raped.
瓦尔斯特伦（Wallstrom ）先生最近与挪威外交大臣施特劳（Jonas Gahr Store）合著的论文中解释道，“性暴力在文化上相对合法，施暴者并不感到羞耻。当你接受强奸是一种文化，自然而然就会实施强奸。这就给施暴者提供了保护伞，并使得世界领导人对性暴力视而不见，将其视为不变之事实。”
“Cultural relativism legitimizes the violence and discredits the victims, because when you accept rape as cultural, you make rape inevitable,” Ms. Wallstrom explained in a recent opinion essay co-authored with the Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store. “This shields the perpetrators and allows world leaders to shrug off sexual violence as an immutable — if regrettable — truth.”
When we blame all Congolese men for sexual violence, not only do we imply that rape is inherent to the African landscape, we avoid critical questions, particularly regarding the role that we in the West play.
Who has been silent during 12 years of mass rape and off-the-charts atrocities? We have.
Who funds the bloodshed with our hunger for the latest computer processor and smart phone produced with minerals from Congo? We do. Perhaps unwittingly, but we do.
Who helped the fighters get their guns? We did.
This prevents us from taking the basic steps required to end the crisis: a coordinated international effort to choke off the militia leadership, some of whom reside in Europe and the United States; requirements that technology companies spend the extra penny per product that would guarantee conflict-free gadgets; and an aggressive plan to end the culture of impunity through justice and accountability measures.
When we label rape in Congo “cultural,” we let ourselves off the hook. And that is a cultural issue. Ours.
2010-07-07 23:31 编辑：kuaileyingyu