Congo rape soldiers: we abused our power
Updated on 10 September 2010
Channel 4 News has gained access to a pioneering project in eastern Congo where soldiers who freely raped during the country's civil war are rehabilitated. They tell Millie Harvey and Nicola York why they used their power to abuse women.
Joseph does not take his eyes off me throughout our hour-long interview.
He talks of how he used to rape women, how he viewed them as inanimate objects with no feelings, that he used physical, psychological and sexual violence because he was trained to do this by the congolese navy.
All the time his gaze is fixed on me in a warped game of stare-off.
I do not look away but I have goose bumps throughout.
His colleague Jean, who like Joseph is also a congolese soldier in the navy based in South Kivu, says they need sex after months away from civilian life so they would take women by force in front of other soldiers, who would clap and cheer while they raped.
The woman would then be passed around for the men to "share" her.
They talk of their sex lives with their wives now.
Joseph says: "I ask her now if she wants sex. Before I would not ask, I would just beat her if she did not want to have sex with me, until she gave in."
Jean and Joseph are now mentors to other soldiers and role-models in the local community, having been through a re-education programme run by the charity Women for Women International.
They teach other men that it is wrong to rape and brutalise women and that women are equal to men and are not just objects.
Telling rapists they are inspiring is not something I had envisioned doing and it does not sit well. But I tell them it anyway.
As rapists go, they are I suppose.
What is the Congo Conflict?
Democratic Republic of Congo is the size of western Europe and borders nine other countries: Zambia, Angola and Congo to the south and west, Central African Republic and Sudan to the north, and Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east.
It is home to around 71 million people, slightly more than the population of the UK. The focus of the current troubles, the Kivu provinces, lie to the east, on the border with Rwanda. Goma, in North Kivu, has a population of one million.
Following Rwanda's genocide in 1994, supporters of its former Hutu regime, including some who had taken part in the genocide against ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, fled across the border into eastern Congo, then Zaire.
These Rwandan Hutus quickly allied themselves with Zaire's leader, President Mobutu, and began to attack Congo's ethnic Tutsis.
Fighting broke out between Hutu rebels and Congolese Tutsis until Mobutu was overthrown and replaced by Laurent Kabila.
However, Kabila then failed to flush out the Hutu militias, incurring the wrath of Rwanda which sent in troops to overthrow him.
The conflict then escalated, drawing in countries from Zimbabwe to Angola and lasted five years. 5 million people died directly or indirectly as a result of the war.
It has been over officially since 2003 however eastern Congo continues to experience fighting and instability.
It is harder to think anything inspirational about them when I meet Solange.
She is a congolese widow living in South Kivu aged 35 with four children and two nieces whom she also takes care of.
It seems callous to sum up her story in a few sentences. But this is how it goes. Solange was raped four times over a period of nine years by rebel militia groups from Rwanda (also known as Interahamwe meaning "those who attack together").
In 2006, she and her nine-year old daughter Esperanza were raped together.
Esperanza later died of her injuries.
The last rape in 2008 led to a pregnancy. She named her daughter Esperanza after the daughter who died. The name means hope.
It is difficult to feel hope after interviewing 13 rape survivors in three days.
But they are survivors, these strong proud women who look stunning in their brightly coloured headscarfs and patterned dresses.
After staring into 13 pairs of eyes filled with pain, suffering and tears over those three days, the enduring message at the end of the interview is always hope, incredible as it sounds.
They are not victims and do not want to be thought of this way.
With help from Women for Women International, they have regained their dignity and run small businesses selling fish and soaps.
They have dreams of paying for their children's schooling, having food everyday and owning a home.
They are remarkably similar to you and me.
I ask Solange what she would most like in the world.
She says: "Peace. The rapes will not stop until there is peace in Congo."
The rapist's story: Sergeant Joseph Kilanga
"I am an army officer in Uvira Naval Forces. I am 35 years old. I am married and I have two daughters.
These rapes occured in a group with other army soldiers or just individually. That is the reason why I believe that in times of war there are certain evil spirits that possess individuals because sometimes you could just go on your own and commit these atrocities or join other soldiers.
It depends on how things unfold. We did all sort of things to women just because we felt we were in a position of power and there was not going to be any consequences. We took advantage of their vulnerability. Knowing that they could not defend themselves.
We were using our power to abuse women physically and sexually. I didn't value women and often abuse of my position as an army member. I thought I could treat women any how.
I believe that the training we are receiving will enable us to respect women and also understand that they have more worth than men.
Seeing a woman was so wonderful, you will appreciate the fact that soldiers at war are often deprived of having sexual contact with women. However, with the help of this training we acknowledge that what we were doing was absolutely wrong. We feel enlightened on how human beings must live."