Bernadette NTUMBA : SOS Women in Danger in DRC
- 2 July 2012
Bernadette Ntumba is the coordinator of AMCAV, the Association of Christian Mothers for Assistance to the Vulnerable in Uvira territory, South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. She came to meet us in Lyon at the end of June 2012. In 2011 AMCAV was a beneficiary of our programme in support of local initiatives promoting democracy, human rights and the establishment of a constitutional state in DRC. This programme was established by a group of European NGOs including Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme, and managed by COSI. An interview with a courageous woman.
You are currently the coordinator of AMCAV and act as the focal point for the territorial commission for the struggle against sexual violence in Uvira territory. What are the reasons behind your commitment to the cause?
In 1999, several women joined together to protest against the way elderly women with no income were treated – how they were abused, accused of being witches, sometimes rejected by their own families who would refuse to support them. We first tried to help these women by giving them basic supplies and clothes. We then worked with the administrator of Uvira territory to raise awareness among the families. The initiative had positive results and that is how AMCAV was born. Afterwards our activities focussed on helping women who have been victimised.
We were originally moved by the desire to help. Without considering ourselves as real “activists”, in real terms we already were through our actions. We now fully embrace this role. Since then, AMCAV and other women’s organisations have fought against sexual violence against women that is very widespread in DRC. We have launched a call for protest: “SOS Women in danger”.
How did AMCAV translate its commitment into action?
First, we received support from the Swiss cooperation in Burundi where we went without authorisation to be trained by a psychologist on initiating a dialogue with victims. We then opened up a home for victims in Uvira. Since then I have been the focal point of the territorial commission for the struggle against sexual violence and we have learned to cooperate with the state departments.
Have you received any threats because of your actions?
We have all been threatened. Some of us could not stand it but most of us resisted and persevered. I still receive threatening calls and my family has been the victim of retaliatory acts. In April 2012, my own daughter was raped. I consider this a real low point. Usually I am the one who assists the victims of such acts. In this case, they targeted my daughter. Moreover a suspect was arrested and handed over to the police but he escaped a few hours later without having signed a statement so our complaint was rejected. This was a yet another painful ordeal that we managed to overcome.
The impunity of people who commit rape is a real problem for the DRC. How can AMCAV help the victims get to access justice?
We uncovered a strange practice of the Congolese justice system, which only informs the plaintiff at the end of the proceedings whether some of the elements of their case are not admissible. It was therefore absolutely essential for social workers, who are the first people in contact with the victims, to be more competent on this matter. In partnership with COSI and with the help of a prosecutor and a police officer we organised a training session for the social workers to teach them how to build a case file by collecting legal evidence.
Has your action had the results you were hoping for?
The project has had a real impact. This accounts for the increase in threats we have received. The judgements on the last 12 cases we worked on were all in favour of the victims. Even though they have not received financial compensation to date, they have still been recognised as victims by the tribunal. These women are grateful to AMCAV and we receive a lot of thanks.