The problems have their roots in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when thousands of victims and perpetrators fled across the border. Upwards of 10,000 Rwandan rebel forces remained, living in forested areas and terrorising local populations at their will. Rwanda doesn't want them back, and even if they did, many refuse to return. The Congolese Army, it seems, has neither the collective heart nor the political will to forcibly remove them, and with many soldiers not receiving pay for months on end, they too are guilty of looting and pillaging. So the forces remain, intent on the sexual and social destruction of the local population.Nothing is done to stop it because it simply isn't fashionable for the Hollywood elites to travel to Congo to demand a stop to the rapes and killings and mutilations. If it were the gorillas, they'd be lifting their voices to demand an end to the senseless deaths and poaching.
So far they are succeeding on a spectacular scale. For those who are apprehended, there is little impunity, thanks to antiquated gender laws. The attacks grow more numerous and sadistic by the day and the normalisation of sexual violence continues largely unabated.
"Darfur is nothing compared to what's going on in the Congo," says Schuler Deschryver, who despite constant death threats, continues to raise the plight of Congolese women. "My father was the founder of the National Park in Rwanda, which is home to rare silver back gorillas. During the war here, just one silver back was killed. And when it happened, within 48 hours millions in funding was sent to ensure the rest of the gorilla population was protected. Why isn't the same done with our women? I'll tell you why, because in the eyes of the international community animals have more value than humans in this part of the world."
Schuler Deschryver's anger is also felt a few kilometres away, on the outskirts of Bukavu, where Dr Denis Mukwege, an obstetrician for more than 20 years, tries to deal with the aftermath of sexual violence. He runs Panzi Hospital, set up in 1999 in response to the emergency crisis after the so-called African war; it houses more than 350 patients. Each day, 10 new cases are admitted, some as young as nine, so badly damaged that reconstructive surgery is often required. The victims sit on benches, lining urine-soaked corridors, alone and frightened. On eye contact, there is nothing. No expression, no acknowledgement, no smiles - just a fleeting confirmation that behind their eyes, a pained suffering lies deep.
Mukwege can't say for certain if the attacks are on the increase. In general, the hospital estimates it sees just 10 per cent of all sexual violence victims, but certain patterns are developing. Attackers are now identifiable by their manner of attack: one group, after raping the woman or girl, inserts the barrel of a gun into her vagina and shoots, thus destroying her vagina, bladder, rectum and causing massive blood loss. Some force males at gunpoint to rape mothers or sisters, often in front of the whole community. A large percentage of the attackers are HIV-positive and knowingly try to infect their victims.
These aren't just random acts of grotesque inhumanity; it is the systematic sexual and social destruction of whole populations in eastern Congo. And little, it seems, is being done to stop it.
There are serious problems with the way the world community deals with human rights catastrophes, and the entire region in Africa is still dealing with the failures to stop the Rwandan genocide in 1994. It's a slow motion horror that continues to take lives and breed new generations of hatred and violence.