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Rape survivors plant Seeds of Hope

Documentary screening explores sexual violence in the DRC

On November 18, the Montreal British Consulate General partnered with McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF) to screen Seeds of Hope, a documentary meant to shine light on the prevalence of sexual violence prevalent in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the women survivors who are working to rebuild their lives.

Seeds of Hope was filmed and made by award-winning Al Jazeera documentary filmmaker Fiona Lloyd-Davies, who joined Myriam Denov, a McGill professor of international social work, and Mélanie Coutu, the program director of the McGill Humanitarian Studies Initiative, at a panel discussion held after the screening.

The film follows Masika Katsuva, a rape survivor who started up a centre within her home to provide physical and emotional support for other rape survivors and their children. When the survivors felt strong enough, Katsuva found them homes and jobs within the local community. Katsuva rented a field nearby where she and the other survivors could plant crops in order to sustain the centre.

Katsuva and her two daughters, who are also rape survivors, provide care to over 18 children as well, who were either orphaned during the conflict or abandoned by their mothers due to being “products of rape.”

The documentary follows the community for a two-year stretch over which the centre saw growth and success, until it was overtaken by a retreating Congolese army that happened to pass through the community. The soldiers raped many women, killing some at the same time.

“You have an army made up of militia groups, who have child soldiers who have no formal training, very little education and understanding of what a soldier should be doing, how they should be behaving, what their responsibilities are,” Katsuva said in the film.

“I found it very emotionally and intellectually challenging. It’s hard to cope with the knowledge that such horrendous acts are still committed today on a daily basis, and that little is being done by the international community,” U3 Arts student Franseza Pardoe, who attended the event, told The Daily.

“I had read widely on the conflict prior [to] going [to this event] but being exposed to the women’s personal testimonies was new and extremely moving,” Pardoe continued.

The documentary also showed the soldiers’ disturbing perspectives, who admitted to enjoying their actions, and justified themselves by claiming they had merely followed their commandant’s orders.

The panel discussion after the screening explored topics such as the re-victimization of rape survivors and the failure to include them in relevant policy-making decisions. Denov spoke about how the perpetrators of sexual violence are usually not punished for their crimes due to inadmissible evidence provided in international courts.

“What you have in many situations are victims who are forced to then see their perpetrators on a regular basis in the community, so there’s a process of re-victimization that often occurs,” Denov said.

“In terms of peace-keeping, the problem currently is that the peace negotiation process is very militarized – there are the head of states, there are the military men [who make the decisions],” Coutu said.

Some international initiatives have already begun to attempt to hold perpetrators accountable for sexual violence. This June, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was held in London. The summit was meant to address multiple issues relating to sexual violence in conflict, including coming up with a protocol as to how evidence should be collected when rape survivors wish to bring their perpetrators to court.

“Some of the problems in the past with international criminal trials have been that the evidence from women has not been admissible in court […] so they wanted to create a protocol that can be accepted,” Lloyd-Davies told The Daily.

According to Lloyd-Davies, there is still progress to be made. “I think we need to keep reminding them, keep pressuring them to ensure [that these human rights workers] who are already [helping survivors] do it in [such] a way that it can be used as evidence, and to try to end this perception of impunity that enables men to continue to rape.”