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Summary

  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 signals a new movement in the international community to recognize widespread sexual violence against women in conflict as a threat to international peace and security.
  • Research on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has predominantly focused on victims and survivors of rape.  A better understanding of the roots of SGBV in conflict, however, can only be gained by examining the experiences and motivations of perpetrators.
  • SGBV has been a pervasive and highly destructive feature of the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Soldiers from the Mai Mai militia group, one of many armed groups operating in this conflict, describe a number of factors that promote sexual violence in the ranks of this group.
  • Soldiers have a complex and sometimes contradictory relationship with civilians.  Interviewees express a desire to reintegrate into civilian life and return to pre-war norms, and they see themselves as protectors of civilians.  However, civilians are also seen as a resource that can be exploited for money, food, and other needs.
  • For the Mai Mai, sexual violence against women by other armed groups, particularly foreign groups, is seen as a motivation to fight.  Nevertheless, at least some soldiers justify sexual violence perpetrated by members of their own group.
  • Some commanders explicitly support rape by treating women as a spoil of war.  Men also describe rape as a result of individual motives, such as the desire of a particular woman.
  • The most effective interventions to address SGBV are tailored to the motivations and decision-making structures of each armed group.  An understanding of militia group attitudes is especially important as these groups are currently being integrated into the national army.
  • Mai Mai commanders should be held responsible for the violence perpetrated by themselves and the men under their command.  High levels of concern about contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections pose an opportunity to discourage combatants from engaging in sexual violence.
  • The DRC government should use the integration of Mai Mai troops into the national army as an opportunity to retrain troops, with a focus on sensitizing soldiers about human rights and the need to protect civilians.  Trust between civilians and the military could be built through regular meetings among leaders as well as effective prosecution of rape crimes.
  • The international and humanitarian communities can provide mental health counseling to demobilized soldiers as well as employment opportunities to assist in reintegration.

About the Report

This report reflects a key goal of USIP's Gender and Peace Initiative, which seeks to inform policy through analytical and practitioner work.  The report presents the results of qualitative research conducted with combatants from the Mai Mai militia in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as part of a project by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI).  Interviews conducted at three field sites provide insight into soldiers' motivations and their attitudes toward sexual violence in their group.  However, soldiers' responses also reveal potential areas for intervention.

This research was funded through a grant from the Open Society Institute (OSI) and was made possible through collaboration with the Centre d'Assistance Medico-Psychosociale (CAMPS).  The author gratefully acknowledges the CAMPS field team for their remarkable dedication and courage in undertaking this project: Justin Kabanga, Deogratsias Bisimwa Bulungu, and Dieudonné Bagalwa Cherubala.  She would also like to thank the team at HHI for their continuing support and for sharing their knowledge and expertise to help make this project possible: Michael Vanrooyen, Jennifer Leaning, Vincenzo Bollettino, Sasha Chriss, Gregg Greenough, and Margeaux Fischer.

Jocelyn Kelly is the sexual and gender-based violence research coordinator for the HHI, where she designs and implements research projects to examine how different groups experience and perceive conflict in the DRC.  She received her master's in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health.

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