It is always a thrill to have former Women PeaceMakers return to the IPJ for events and conferences. It was no different yesterday evening to see Sylvie Maunga Mbanga, a 2008 Woman PeaceMaker, on stage. The subject matter she was addressing, however, was devastating – what Program Officer Jennifer Freeman described in the introduction as the “horrific and endemic sexual violence in the Congo,” Mbanga’s home country.
Mbanga joined the stage with filmmakers Ilse and Femke van Velzen after the screening of the van Velzen’s film “Weapon of War.” The second documentary in a trilogy on the Democratic Republic of Congo, “Weapon of War” boldly addresses the neglected subject of the guilt and trauma experienced by perpetrators of rape, used as a deliberate weapon of war for years in the Congo. With over 30,000 soldiers in the national army and 50,000 rebels divided into more than 60 armed groups, perpetrators of rape are plentiful, but the film focuses primarily on the story of an ex-rebel, Alain Kasharu, and his attempt to seek forgiveness from a young girl he and three fellow rebels raped.
The van Velzens let the Congolese tell the story: There is no narration, only the voices of those they followed and interviewed, including a captain in the national army, himself a former rapist who is now educating soldiers and newly integrated ex-rebels about the consequences of sexual violence and how they can reform and move beyond the acts they committed.
“Weapon of War” brings up numerous issues and controversies: whether perpetrators’ suffering and isolation should be brought to light when victims themselves are still not heard, the potential for films like this to re-traumatize both victim and perpetrator, and even the very basic argument of whether such a culturally taboo subject should be raised in Congo.
In the Q&A following the screening, Mbanga affirmed that despite the controversies and very real questions the film raises, one of its strengths is its redemptive quality: that perpetrators and victims alike can and must become the actors of peace in Congo.